Quirky, tender odyssey
The sexual revolution reaches US television in this funny, touching account of a very well-equipped gigolo
Y ES, HUNG, the title of a new HBO series coming to TV screens on November 17 on M-Net at 9.30pm, does refer to that sort of “hung”. So it’s not about an art critic traipsing around the National Portrait Gallery, or a history of trapdoor capital punishment (because that, of course, would be “Hanged”).
Hung is, let’s make no bones about it, a comedy drama about a man with a big penis.
Actually, it’s a lot more than that. Starring Thomas Jane as Ray, a divorced and marginalised Detroit school basketball coach who decides to make use of his largest remaining asset (his house having just burned down) and become a gigolo, Hung is a quirky and surprisingly tender odyssey through both the male midlife crisis and the female sexual psyche.
But to return briefly to that title, there is something wonderfully brazen about Hung. It could well have been the name of one of Andy Warhol’s Factory films, with Joe Dallesandro as a well-endowed hustler. And the Warhol connection is perhaps no coincidence because while the artist’s glorified home movies were at the vanguard of American cinema’s sexual revolution in the 1960s, so Hung is at the cutting edge of American TV’s more belated sexual revolution.
The once heavily censored US airwaves are now full of actors talking about sex and simulating sex, and cable TV in general, and HBO in particular, are to be thanked (or blamed) for this.
With upmarket liberal subscribers to please instead of controversysensitive advertisers, cable has continued pushing boundaries ever since it introduced nudity and swearing to a hitherto spotless American television in the early 1990s with Dream On. Since then shows like Sex and the City and, more recently, Showtime’s Califor
nication have broadened American TV’s sexual licence while managing to pick up awards at the same time.
“Explicit television and quality television have become conflated in the public consciousness, largely because of HBO’s success,” wrote Newsweek magazine recently.
“Graphic sex is not a necessity of good storytelling… It’s a carrot cable networks use to attract creative talent, people (with) visions and don’t want them compromised.”
Two such talents are Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, the brains behind Hung, and I asked them whether the show’s rather startling scenario made for a hard (unfortunate puns being almost unavoidable) sell when they started pitching it to TV executives.
“We never pitched it to the networks… always cable… it was actually an enticing idea,” says Lipkin. “I was actually shocked,” adds Burson. “I mean, we would say the words ‘large penis’ and it was like: ‘Where do we sign the cheque?’
“In a way, the penis thing is a bit of a Trojan horse,” says Lipkin. “One of the things we were interested in was the male psyche versus the female psyche. Ray’s a voyager in the world of women… and we came to realise more and more that there was something electric about a man and a woman alone in a room together with sex on the table, as a commercial exchange, a terrifying transaction full of drama.”
These scenes are among the funniest and most touching I’ve seen in a while, but there is surprisingly little nudity in Hung – and as for Ray’s allegedly enormous member, Lipkin and Burson reckon some things may be best left to the imagination.
“We sometimes referred to it as the magical penis – in the sense that ‘When are we going to see this penis?’ or ‘What’s it going to look like?’ and we came to think of it as being the perfect penis for any woman who saw it.”
Will we ever see Ray’s “magical penis”? “We have to be very careful about how one does see it because we want to treat that in an imaginative way,” replies Lipkin. – The Independent
MALE AND FEMALE PSYCHE: From left, Leighton Meester, Blake Lively and Taylor Momsen from Gossip Girl and, right, Thomas Jane who plays the well-hung Ray in Hung.