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Aldo Ray

Aldo Ray

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TV Guy: 'Hung' is much more than its gimmickText Size: A | A | APrint this Article Email this ArticleRespond to this ArticleBy Kevin McDonoughFor the Times Herald-RecordPosted: June 28, 2009 - 6:00 AMOK, I was all prepared to hate "Hung" (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

Its story about Ray Drecker (Thomas Jane), a down-on-his-luck high school basketball coach who turns to male prostitution to make ends meet, seemed so desperately contrived, so snarky and pretentious, so Showtime.I'm happy to be proven wrong.

"Hung" uses its rather outrageous setup to drag viewers into a nuanced drama about middle-class decline and middle-aged disappointment.

These are the kinds of grand themes normally reserved for serious fiction — the kinds of books that are so difficult to capture on screen and that rarely find audiences when they do.The prostitution angle also allows "Hung" to approach an American tragedy as sexual farce.

Located in the outskirts of a crumbling Detroit, Drecker fears that his city, the economy and the country have gone to the dogs in his lifetime.

And the chaos of his personal life mirrors this decline.In the eventful first hour, we discover that his shallow first wife, Jessica (Anne Heche, in a memorably over-the-top performance), has left him for a short, rich dermatologist (Eddie Jemison).

We meet Ray's rather greasy, pudgy and blank children, Darby (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) and Damon (Charlie Saxton).

We also see his circuitous path to selling his services, a trajectory that includes a house fire and an encounter with a needy former lover, Tanya (Jane Adams), a spacey poet who convinces Ray that he has a singular gift and perhaps even a lucrative calling.The scenes between the hesitant Ray and his scatter-brained muse click in all the most awkward ways.

And behind the burlesque of Ray's descent into prostitution, "Hung" mines comedy from the chasms of noncommunication between men and women on matters of money, power and intimacy.This is a very smart and worthwhile show hiding behind the inverted fig leaf of a porn-worthy premise.

The show's title and hook will no doubt inspire a lot of stupid commentary and witless double entendres from all of the usual, stupid and witless sources in an increasingly juvenile and tabloid media.

But once you get past all that, "Hung" is a smart, risque and thought-provoking series, the kind we used to expect from HBO.Highlights tonight Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): online gambling; the science of mind reading; attracting tourists to Africa's poorest spots.

On two episodes of "Merlin" (NBC, TV-PG), epidemics (8 p.m.), poison (9 p.m.).

The competition continues on "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" (8 p.m., BBC America).

A lunar landing looms on the conclusion of "Impact" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

"Hitler's Stealth Fighter" (9 p.m., National Geographic) looks at Nazi efforts to build a radar-evading aircraft.

"Masterpiece Mystery" (9 p.m., PBS) presents "Poirot: Mrs.

McGinty's Dead." Cult choice Amid a day devoted by TCM to the films of director George Cukor, catch one of his lesser-known gems, the 1952 comedy-drama "The Marrying Kind," at 4:15 p.m.

Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray star.Series notes A wedding do-over on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG, D, L) ...

A leg up on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (8 p.m., ABC, r) ...

Dale flies solo on "King of the Hill" (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG, D) ...

The death of a pinup on "Cold Case" (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14, V) ...

Peter becomes a guinea pig on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14, D, S) ...

Wife swapping on "American Dad" (9:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14, D, S) ...

A scientist knows more than he's telling on "The Unit" (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14, V) ...

Murder in the park on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).Kevin McDonough, a syndicated columnist who lives in Narrowsburg, can be reached at [email protected] Reaction These discussions and our forums are not moderated.

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