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In these recessionary times, if you're looking for a reason other than True Blood to keep HBO on your cable bill, this is it.

A ribald but serious premise to HBO's new comedy Hung 

Working stiff

click to enlarge Thomas Jane in the new HBO series "Hung" - PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO

Hung
HBO
Premieres Sunday, June 28, at 10 p.m.

It's a meaty premise, that's for sure. A guy, down on his luck, and with nothing much going for him except his huge penis, decides to capitalize on it by going into business as a prostitute who serves unfulfilled women.

So goes the basic description of HBO's new summer comedy, Hung, and as the first sentence of this review demonstrates, things can quickly devolve into puerile dick jokes when a story begins with that idea. But hey, this is HBO, not Comedy Central, so expectations are rightfully higher.

Not that Hung doesn't offer up some good ol' schlong humor (how could it not?), such as when the main character, debt-ridden high school coach Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane) has to vertically readjust his camera to snap a photo of his little big man for an online ad. Of course, there are double entendres all over the place, "tool" being an easy favorite. But as a comic lament for the spiritual emasculation of the average American male, Hung gives us something far more satisfying. We get an unlikely but perfect hero to root for during these trying times.

While appreciating all the things this series gets right, let's start with location. The story is set in Detroit, represented in some establishing and background shots by condemned buildings and store windows that shout GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.

"Everything's falling apart," Ray groans during his opening narration. "And it all starts here in Detroit—the headwaters of a river of failure."

This sorry state of things is especially galling to Ray, a lifelong Motor City resident who remembers how the middle-class incomes of his parents were good enough to secure the nice house by the lake where he grew up in the '70s and '80s.

It's been downhill ever since for Ray, however, and for Detroit. A career as a professional baseball player fizzled out, and his wife of 20 years (a wonderfully high-strung Anne Heche) has left him, and now has his kids, too. His house burns down. But, at least, Ray has his penis—although he doesn't immediately recognize the possibilities.

click to enlarge Thomas Jane in the new HBO series "Hung" - PHOTO COURTESY OF HBO

A desperate enrollment in a self-help class for budding entrepreneurs (read: the unwanted) proves serendipitous for Ray, when a fellow classmate rekindles an acquaintance, leading to a one-night stand that Ray would rather forget. She's Tanya Skagle (Jane Adams), a local poet (and beleaguered law firm temp) whose second source of income has dried up since the school system cut a program that paid poets to teach high school classes for a day.

"Whenever you couldn't get a lesson plan figured out in time, you just called in a poet," Ray recalls in a typically hilarious voiceover, adding: "The patchouli alone should have sent me running."

Still, after a second-night stand degenerates into an argument, Tanya yells at him, "You want to be a millionaire? Why don't you go market your dick!"

And that's how the fun starts. Tanya ends up as his "pimp," a job that gives her a badly needed sense of purpose and a chance to turn the tables on guys like him (in a kind, nurturing way).

It's easy to understand what sensitive Tanya sees in Ray, thanks in part to the big picture painted by writer-creators Dmitry Lipkin (creator of The Riches) and Colette Burson. Sure, he's the conceited A-hole jock from high school whose lifelong failure you secretly fantasized about ever since. But, thanks also to Thomas Jane's award-level performance, you feel differently when you see the hurt on his face or hear the weariness behind the snappy dialogue. And you can't help but love a guy who never gives up on his two kids, who are as unlike him at that age as they can be—chubby, withdrawn and filled with more anxiety than he has as an adult.

How's the sex, you ask? There's a healthy amount of it, naturally, but we don't get to see his you-know-what. (And I hope we never do—why spoil the mystery?) Besides, we see so much of his bare ass in the first few episodes, you may begin to wonder if that's our consolation prize.

So here's the blurb: Right now, this is the funniest comedy series on TV. In these recessionary times, if you're looking for a reason other than True Blood to keep HBO on your cable bill, this is it.

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