So who watched Hung last night? HBO's latest installment in its string of series depicting lives lived on the fringes of America is about a well-endowed gym teacher who becomes a gigolo to earn some extra cash. It was... good?
Video clip probably NSFW, BTW!
It's so hard to tell about the general quality of the show, glamored as we were by director Alexander Payne's reliably gentle/tough hand and the nimble work of Jane Adams, as Thomas Jane's pimp, who is one of Hollywood's most criminally underused actors. She gave a fine, nuanced, weird performance last night—spanning from sexual ecstasy to untethered artist sadness to hard-minded pragmatist with natural ease. And Payne's details—his close-ups, his visual aesthetic that's both warm and chilly—provided such a lovely backdrop for this kind of pleasingly lived-in acting.
But Thomas Jane? Hm. He's always been such a conundrum. He was maybe going to break out and be big after The Sweetest Thing and The Punisher and then it just fizzled into nowhere. And he's got that curious face, that bashed-up maybe-handsome, maybe-too-unfocused set of features that can be manly and attractive one minute, and then sort of sad and grizzled the next. It works mostly to his favor, we think, in the role of Ray Drecker, a washed-up high school coach who, in his youth, had a string of opportunities that never panned out (hey... sounds familiar!). Anne Heche ably plays his angry, moved-on wife in a part that could either stay shrill or round out to something unlikable, sure, but undeniably compelling in its true-to-life humanity (see: Nikki Grant on Big Love).
So we like it OK. But we're definitely not in love. We're trying to remember the last time a TV pilot grabbed us and demanded further viewing. Didn't happen for True Blood or, hell, even Big Love. What about over on Showtime? We're sorta liking Nurse Jackie, but it's really only for the same reason as Hung: a wonderful performance by a lead actress amid a sea of other, murkier things. In the case of Nurse Jackie: What the hell were they thinking casting that guy as Jackie's husband? He's like twenty years younger and belongs in some indie about softly strumming guitars in a sparsely-furnished New York apartment, not playing the borough-dwelling owner of a local dive bar. Also, Anna Deavere Smith is sort of embarrassing herself with jokey-joke cameos as a stern hospital administrator. And while Eve Best is a terrific actress, we're not sure that her hyperbolic character—bitchy blase rich Englishwoman doctor with a boatload of Blahniks but no love for children—belongs alongside Falco's more dependably "real" Jackie.
Both of these shows have promise, and we'll stick with them, but we're disappointed that we're not more excited. Not everything can be The Sopranos or Mad Men where we're hooked like suckers from the very beginning, but watching a show out of duty or some pretentious high-minded ideal that this is Good Television starts to feel like work after a while.