'Hung': TV's Next Big Thing

For all the talk about how TV, not movies, is where you find the best writing these days, I sometimes think they’re starting to run out of ideas for TV shows, too. For example, as of this week there are two shows on primetime network television about men with very large penises. (As far as I know the only show currently on network television about a man with a very small penis is Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice). HBO’s Hung is about a schoolteacher with a very large penis who’s forced by economic hardship to become a gigolo. MTV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger is about a high school loser who somehow fails to become popular even after the entire school finds out he has a very large penis.

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If these shows find audiences we can expect to see more shows with similar themes. How about a sitcom in which a divorced dad with a very large penis tries to juggle career and parenting? Or a family drama about a 70-year old widower with a very large penis who’s forced to move back in with his adult kids? Or maybe people would watch a gritty police drama about a slightly racist, older white cop with a very large penis who’s assigned to a younger black partner of indeterminate penis size. I know I would.

HBO’s Hung feels like one of those “out there” spec scripts unemployed TV writers sometimes shop around desperately hoping to generate some heat out of sheer outrageousness, like a Seinfeld script in which Jerry kills a guy. But in this case the joke’s on the writers because Hung actually got produced.

WRITER: OK, this one’s about a guy who’s so broke he decides to become a male prostitute.
AGENT: (YAWN) What else ya got?
WRITER: Oh, and he’s got a really big penis.
AGENT: I’m listening…

Hung is set in Detroit, so I guess the metaphor they’re going for is about how the failure of western industrial capitalism has turned us all into whores. Which is such a great idea I think I’m going to write it up as a screenplay and call it The Full Monty. Wait, somebody already did. Anyway, there are just two major obstacles standing between Hung and dramatic plausibility: First, the idea that simply having a very large penis would give a man like Ray (played by Thomas Jane) instant credibility as a gigolo. Not to get too personal here, but whoever created this series has obviously had very little experience with male prostitutes. And second, that a New-Age-fortyish-hippy-chick-unemployed-poet like Ray’s friend-with-occasional-benefits Tanya (Jane Adams) would see becoming his pimp as a viable entrepreneurial venture, even to the point of soliciting clients for Ray at the law firm where she works.

In real life someone like Tanya wouldn’t have anything to do with a guy like Ray, much less go to such great lengths to become his pimp. Hung is one of those shows with great production values and a solid cast which is frustrating to watch because the characters do things that just don’t make sense. And the show’s main selling point-- Ray’s very large penis-- is completely superfluous to these characters, the situation, and the stories they’re trying to tell.

Other than the cachet of appearing in an HBO production one wonders why Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, and even Anne Heche would, you should pardon the expression, touch a project like Hung with a ten-foot pole. Maybe, like Ray’s character, they just did it for the money.

Like every classic TV family comedy, the pilot episode of MTV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger opens with the lead character in bed masturbating under the covers while his mother sits at the end of the bed watching. The twist here is that Mom doesn’t realize what her teenaged boy is doing until he finishes, at which point she beams with delight. This heartwarming sequence is followed by some exposition, such as it is (high school loser drops shorts during basketball game, exposing his very large penis to the crowd), featuring fairly specific references to every conceivable sexual act except necropheliatic beastiality which, if you’re not a regular MTV viewer, means sex with dead animals.

As in Hung, having a very large penis isn’t simply one aspect of the RJ Berger character, it’s essentially the premise of the show. Yet even after he exposes himself during a basketball game and the entire school learns his secret, RJ’s life doesn’t change. He’s still an unpopular loser with the fat, even bigger loser friend and the unrequited crush on the school’s hottest girl.

So what purpose is served by giving the lead character in this show a very large penis? Apart from launching an endless stream of double entendres about large penises, and perhaps getting this show on the air in the first place, none that I can see. And in case you’re thinking that this show is the fledgling effort by a struggling unknown writer to establish a foothold in the industry, The Hard Times of RJ Berger was created and co-written by David Katzenburg, whose father Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of the wealthiest and most successful entertainment moguls in Hollywood history.

For all of its shortcomings Hung launches its second season on HBO this month, and The Hard Times of RJ Berger (premiering June 14) is so crass, so cynical, so inauthentic and so amateurishly executed that a long and successful run for it on MTV seems almost guaranteed.

Still, I do hope that these two shows don’t mark the birth of a major new TV genre devoted to the prodigiously endowed male. There are too many great stories left to be told, too many epic characters to be sketched, and too much human wisdom still unexplored for the networks to simply abandon TV to the pandering of pointless obscenity. Here’s hoping that these two shows represent a short-lived trend, and that TV will soon be back to doing what it does best: shows about women with large breasts.

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