The penis mightier

Hung (10 p.m. Sundays on HBO) questions one of the most basic assumptions of manhood by suggesting that maybe all life’s problems aren’t solved by having a giant dick. Well-endowed but woebegone head basketball coach Ray Drecker, played believably by the shabbily handsome Thomas Jane, discovers this sad truth while trying to reverse his life’s fortunes by marketing his giant schlong.

Ray is hanging on by a thread. Recently divorced, wallowing in debt, he has the incredibly crappy misfortune to let his insurance lapse just before he accidentally burns down his ramshackle lakeside house. He’s living in a tent on his property. Even his basketball team is on a losing streak. His ex-beauty queen ex-wife, Jessica (the mercurial Anne Heche, of all people), who left Ray for a wealthy dermatologist and assumed custody of their two sulky teenagers, expresses his plight most succinctly. “God, you were magical in high school!” she laments. “You were a king! You were beautiful and athletic and talented and smart and popular, and hung. Now you’re just hung.”

Desperate enough to attend one of those cheesy get-rich seminars in a hotel ballroom, Ray runs into former conquest Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams — Miles Crane’s second wife, Mel, on Frasier — who’s doing Emmy-quality work here, making a real person from a stereotype), a drifty temp proofreader and part-time poet, who challenges him to use his only remaining asset, his monstrous love log, as a means to an end. He scans the back pages of the local altweekly for research, but quickly realizes he can’t pull it off by himself. He returns to Tanya for advice, and they form Detroit’s unlikeliest male prostitute-pimp partnership.

Even Ray’s name — “Dreck”-er, get it? — conveys bottom-of-the-barrel, state of ruin, life in shambles. What better place to set the story than Detroit? A once-great life falling apart in a once-great city falling apart? “There is that,” co creator Dmitry Lipkin acknowledges. “I mean, Detroit did sort of represent for us the great American dream that’s now sort of fallen on hard times.”

Fortunately, despite all that, Hung is a quality presentation, well cast, beautifully shot, cleverly written. Double entendre runs thick in this show, as you might expect — once Drecker’s motives are established, even a simple breakfast-meeting offer like “You sure you don’t want some of my sausage?” raises a smirk — and Ray’s bumbling attempts as a reluctant first-time gigolo occasionally rise to the level of classic screwball comedy, although the howl-out-loud quality of the humor may be gender specific: One suspects men are far more likely to identify with Ray’s condition than women.

What’s more, the sheer hopelessness of Drecker’s situation and Tanya’s existence may imply a deeper theme in Hung, about the state of masculinity and the human condition in the 21st century — although that may be giving the show too much credit.

In fact, about the only thing you don’t see on Hung, with its coarse language and sporadic nudity, that you expect to see is the show’s namesake. “We’re not saying we’ll never show it,” co-creator Collette Burson muses, “but we haven’t shown it thus far because it seems like it’s in the mind for each woman who experiences it, it’s different.

“People ask us, ‘How many dick jokes are flying in your writers’ room?’ and it’s really amusing to us because it doesn’t fly so much in the writers’ room,” she says. “We’re trying to figure out what makes him tick. We aren’t really interested in the gag of it.”

So to speak.

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