Spoilers for tonight's Hung - plus my take on the show's heated press tour session - coming up just as soon as I snort with derision...
I'll go into more details on the press tour session at the end, but one of the more interesting/confrontational moments came when a critic asked the creators whether the show was actually supposed to be considered a comedy, or if it was just a half-hour drama with occasional moments of humor. Everyone on the panel seemed surprised by this suggestion, particularly when the critic used this episode and next week's (which also features Natalie Zea as Jemma) as an example of the show heading into darker territory. The panelists (primarily co-creators Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, plus Jane Adams) acknowledged that the show has its dark moments but that, as Burson put it, "We do think of it as a comedy of awkwardness," and they had a very different read on these episodes than the critic, who compared them to "Fatal Attraction."
While I do think "Hung" could stand to take a more overt step into the realm of comedy (or else take a firmer step back into the dramatic realm), I actually found "Do It, Monkey" to be the funniest episode so far. And if I were to compare it to a movie, it'd be "Groundhog Day," particularly the section where Bill Murray's character is still trying to trick Andie MacDowell into sleeping with him, and making minute changes to his approach with each passing day based on how she responds to him.
The difference here, of course, is that Ray isn't actually reliving the same moments over and over, and both he and Jemma are very much aware of the game they're playing. But seeing them go through this charade over and over, and seeing lunkhead, insensitive Ray struggle to understand what this crazy lady wants from him, led to more laughs than the show has provided in average in previous weeks. Thus far, most of the go-to humor has come from Tanya - specifically, the idea of scattered, ineffectual poet Tanya trying to act as a pimp - but there's a lot of comic potential in Ray learning the emotional side of his new career, especially since that's turning out to be more important than his giant tool.
Beyond that, "Do It, Monkey" also offered some nice role reversals for our central characters. Jess's husband Ron loses a lot of his money in the stock market, and Floyd the motivational speaker is revealed (to us, if not entirely to Tanya) as a fraud who rents his expensive car and can't afford to just give away paraphernalia if it's not going to get him either sex or money. And that leads to the poignant, mortifying moment when Floyd -- whom she went out with out of pity -- loudly rejects Tanya as not his type, and Tanya has to call up Ray, who by now is her only real friend, after her drunk and disinterested mom blows her off as well.
There have been times at this press tour where I've felt like the only guy in the room who likes this show -- a situation we'll revisit in a moment -- but an episode like "Do It, Monkey" makes me feel like I'm not completely nuts for going against the group consensus. It feels, like last week's episode did, like evidence that the show is slowly but surely finding its voice.
But because most of the room seems not to enjoy "Hung," and because the show's name and subject matter so easily lend themselves to jokes about sex and the male anatomy, the press tour session got... I don't want to say "hostile," though there were one or two points where Thomas Jane seemed very unhappy with us, but... uncomfortable.
For starters, it seemed like every question, intentionally or not, was laced with a double-entendre. The opening query (about inevitable comparisons to "Weeds" and "Breaking Bad"), for instance, included the phrase "working stiffs," and each time we heard a line like that, there were snickers in the crowd and sarcastic thumbs-up from Thomas Jane.
Several reporters euphemistically asked why we had yet to see Ray's "greatest tool," and when the producers tried to turn that into a discussion of how Ray is learning how to satisfy his clients' emotional needs, one frustrated critic bluntly asked, "Why is it that you choose not to show his penis?"
"Because it's just so big and beautiful, it will blow your mind," Jane Adams cracked. "That's why."
Burson then explained, to more snickers, "We think of it as a Platonic Plato's penis on a certain level, like the perfect idealized penis. So there is a certain problem inherent in showing it because it might be too big for some people, too small for others. So we sort of think it's perfect for everybody who comes in contact with it."
Later, when another reporter asked if Thomas Jane's anatomy was considered as part of the audition process, the fed-up leading man said, "I did have to go into the next room to disrobe so I wouldn't hit anybody in the eye."
I certainly didn't help the mood in the room by raising the question, asked by many readers here on the blog, of why the actors cast to play Damon and Darby bare so little resemblance to Thomas Jane and Anne Heche. I tried to couch it in terms of whether there was either a plot point (the show implying that the kids aren't really Ray's) or a thematic one (that, like so much in Ray's life, his kids didn't turn out quite as he expected them to), but the panel seemed to think I was attacking the kids as ugly.
"Don't pick on my kids," Thomas Jane growled. "Leave my kids alone, for God's sake."
Later, he observed, "There is no reason this show should be good. The show should be bad. It's about a guy with a big d--k who f--ks people for money. F--k you." And still later, after someone asked if Jane thought about what female prostitutes go through, he said, "Right, those poor sullied creatures of the night. No. Absolutely not. I just don't want to know what they go through after I give them my $300."
After a gasp and a long moment of silence, Jane Adams asked, "Are you guys twittering? Did anybody get that? Because I can't wait to read that s--t later."
I don't know that any of us -- critics and panelists alike -- covered ourselves in glory, either with my question or the session in general. But, again, the subject matter and the general critical reaction to the show made this sort of awkward half-hour all but inevitable.
That said, Burson, Lipkin and company did offer up some interesting answers to things we've been wondering about, beyond the question of why we have yet to see Ray do the full Monty.
For instance, Burson talked about the "Breaking Bad"/"Weeds" comparisons and said she felt those shows were very concerned with the main character maintaining his/her secret identity, and "We're not so interested in that. Like, we're not interested in who finds out and him trying to hide it. Like, that feels false to us. We are much more interested in him alone in a room with a woman or his relationship with his ex-wife or his relationship with his pimp. It's really about those interconnections for us."
And Jane Adams told a funny story about being on a plane with Terrence Howard (Oscar-nominated for playing a pimp in "Hustle & Flow"). "I had worked with him before, and he was sitting right next to me. So I was, like, 'I'm playing a pimp.' And he had a lot to say about playing a pimp and a lot of stuff. And I realized, you know, this has nothing to do with Ray and Tanya right now..."
I spoke briefly with Adams and Burson after the panel, and hopefully I can interview Burson and Lipkin as the season moves further along to talk about the show's learning curve. And in the meantime, what did everybody else think of this episode?