This week, it's Mad Men and Hung.
Mad Men - "The Good News"
"What do you want?"
"Half of what you have."
So to recap - Betty = bad mother; Don = has nothing to do, drunk, oddly pays hookers to slap him (out of character), does a great Colonel Klink, treats secretaries like shit; Joan = shot in profile the last episode, essentially used as a prop; Roger Sterling = eats shit like it's his job, also drunk but more enjoyably so; Peggy = haircut masquerading as character development; rest of the cast = I am 3 seasons deep into this and don't know any of their names aside from Jared Harris. And that's not his name on the show. Venture Brothers comes back next month, you know that?
This episode starts off with Joan sitting up from the gynocologist's table, wearing a hospital gown. So yeah, still used as a prop but at least this time she's actually got a plotline. Joan's plotline is... the same as Don's. She's in a holding pattern, waiting for her husband to get sent off, first to training, then to Vietnam. Joan is worried that she might not be able to conceive, even though she's had 2 abortions, the first given by a "midwife" and the second by the gynecologist she's talking to (I've seen people complaining about the smoking doctor online, I guess they don't remember that the smoking doctor is a staple of pre-70s film and television). Joan also has a mini-fight with Jared Harris - first he snaps at her, calling her on flirting with him to get extra time off. Then later, she snaps at him over what turns out to be a mistake made by his incompetent secretary ("I thought American men were bad enough but none of them have so consistently made me feel like a helpless stupid little girl"). Their fight gets his secretary fired, but she's fat and stupid - she doesn't know what "egregious" means - so who gives a shit? It's not like she's a real character. Joan goes to make breakfast for her husband on New Years, gives herself a stigmata wound (because Joan is a SAINT, damn you). The husband sews her hand up at the table while patronizing her "this for me is like filing papers is for you". Joan starts crying because she loves this idiot who doesn't understand her at all, and who's been successively ruining her life since he showed up.
Don Draper on a plane is always used to depress the audience. Don Draper driving is a sight to behold. Don says he's going on vacation to Acapulco, but actually goes and sees his ex- / sham-wife in LA. She's got a broken leg, her sister and neice are helping her out with things around the house. The neice is fairly hot, also a Berkley-attending hippy the writers can use to bounce Don off of. Whenever a young person shows up on this show - with the exception of the time Don got drugged and robbed and we got to see that his dead father follows him around calling him soft and worthless every second of his life, AKA back when this show could shock the hell out of me - it's just there for half-assed contrast. They've got all their tricks down now, and they are leaning on them. This hippy is barely a stereotype. She has a huge vein in her forehead and it is distracting (seriously, what the hell?). Don tries to make a move, she pulls the ultimate checkmate and says "your ex-wife has cancer", which shuts him down pretty effectively. She doesn't know it either, in her sister's fucked up provincial 50s logic would rather she not know than know. Full blown cancer, and she doesn't know. Thats fucking awful. Don goes home and pulls a Walter White, ignores the problem and starts painting her house out of guilt (thats a really great thing about AMC programming, they've locked onto that very specific way that American men deal with this shit - I've seen it happen in real life). As Don paints (in his drawers, which is as close to naked as this show gets), the ex- starts talking about that time she saw a UFO, and how it made her question everything. Don responds that you don't need to see a UFO to think that way (THANKS WRITERS ROOM). Don confronts the sister about the cancer thing. She convinces him that her completely fucked way of thinking is the right way of doing things ("you're just a man in a room with a checkbook"). That Don is swayed by this bothers me, considering how angry he could get. I'm assuming that he listens is going to be part of this seasons' Don arc. On the way out, Don looks sad, and the ex assumes that it's because Don's going through a divorce. He stops himself from saying anything again.
Don's problem this season is that he isn't doing anything - really he's not going hard at clients like he used to, he's not taking on an inadvisable relationship, he's not flashing back to the compilation of Terrence Malick movies that is his life (seriously, they've hit Days of Heaven and Thin Red Line, if we see Don in the gap between he's going to be spree killing people around the southwest with his child-bride. I say again, child-bride.). He's in stasis. Don then comes back to the office from LA, finds Jared Harris sitting there by himself on New Years Day. They pretend to work, then Don decides they're going to see the movies. The movies playing in NYC that year were fucking amazing (Zorba the Greek, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Its a Mad Mad Mad World, Send Me Now Flowers, the Guns of August). They decide to go see Gamera, spend the whole time discussing handjobs and getting drunk. Jared Harris loves New York, is uncomfortable because his wife has essentially left him. Don and Jared Harris are now unanimously alone, they decide get hookers. Next week, more holding pattern bullshit until around episode six where they remember its a drama and kill someone.
Hung - "Beaverland"
Last week, I pretty much covered the main reason I'm watching this show; this week, Jane Adams didn't have much to do that showed off any of those reasons. Instead, the show played time-filler, doling out a tiny bit of forward momentum in the plot--by having Mike become the latest prostitute in the stable, even though he doesn't know it yet--and hitting the repeat button on their most noxious subplot, Tanya's relationship with her mother, played by Rhea Perlman. (Rhea deserves some acknowledgment. She's playing an unlikeable high education stereotype, and she's doing such a good job at it that every one of her scenes is a Mad Max Terrordome of uncomfortable, skin-crawling, this isn't funny and it's also painful to watch "comedy".) There was another one of television's "plotting for morons" classics, where the show opened with Tanya criticizing Ray for sabotaging the whore business, and that made Ray feel inadequate, which then magically dovetailed with a client who is designed by writers to make their fictional men feel inadequate, because she's a woman who cannot be pleased in bed for magic reasons I imagine she'll explain with a really poorly written monologue in a later episode. Or she won't, this isn't a show that guarantees a return to specific plot points. I guess I could talk about the guy in the picture--he's the happy-go-lucky pimp that has been giving Tanya advice on the pimping game--but there's not much else to say beyond that. He's supposed to be "funny", you can tell by the music cues, but the last time he had a good line was in his first scene, when he said gettheFUck...outta here right now". On paper, the line is nothing special, but the way he mumbled the first part as a two syllable word, with a weird pause in the middle and a distinct bubble of emphasis on the "fu-" was pretty funny. Since then, he's just sort of there.
So screw this episode. Let's talk about one of the nastiest things in the world.
The oddest thing about this show, the one thing it has that no other show I can think of has, is that it's currently playing a long-form incest subplot that is A) supposed to be a really weird joke and B) is eventually going to result in one of the most uncomfortable fiascos in this show's "we like uncomfortable fiascos" short history. See, the main guy--that's Ray, played by Thomas Jane--has these two kids, kids he had with Anne Heche before she divorced him. The kids are twins, a couple of overweight teenagers in search of an identity. (On television, "in search of identity" means that you spend some time dressing the kids out of a mail order catalog full of Strawberry and Hot Topic ripoffs, screw around with the boy maybe being gay in the bluntest fashion possible, like just have him say "So what if I am gay" and then give him a boyfriend and then end that relationship immediately so he can say "I guess i'm not gay", total screen time, 3 minutes, so on, everybody's seen a variation on this, Roseanne probably did it best at some point, I don't know.) The other running joke that gets addressed every once in awhile is how weird it is that a former beauty queen and an ex-superstar athlete combined to produce a couple of doughy nerd kids. Again: none of this is special or unique, the only card that Hung seems to be playing with it is that they aren't cramming a couple of 30 year old hardbodies into mall gear and pretending that they're the teenagers. (And even then, Alexander Payne, who produced and directed some of the original episodes, already carved out that "replace these actors with real people, i.e. people with acne and braces" territory in Election.)
And for some reason--and I don't really think I want to know why, and I doubt anybody reading this wants to hear me guess--the boy twin loves the girl twin. That's okay. That's normal, you love your sister. I love my sister. All kinds of people love their sisters. But see, there's the thing: he loves his sister and he wants to be with her too, that kind of love. He writes poems about her fetus feet, tries to break up her relationships, teases and leads on a gay guy just to make her jealous, hugs her too long, has these weird, furtive groping moments and they play twang-y sound cues while he does it...basically, you've got an entire show that has this weird, vaguely acknowledged backplot going about a teenage boy who wants to fuck his twin sister. She seems aware of it, Ray is staring to pick up on it, and it just goes on and on and on, and...look, gross shit makes me laugh. Johnny Ryan comics, youtube mash-up videos of that creepy guy in the Metal Gear video games, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness, whatever, I don't care, go for it, it's not real, Ha Ha Ha. But the thing is--this incest thing isn't funny. Not because incest couldn't be funny, I bet somebody could make incest really funny. Anything can be really funny. I just don't know that the Hung people can pull it off, they don't seem to have the chops. The actors are doing an okay job making it all seem uncomfortable, but I'm pretty sure that even shitty actors can make incest seem uncomfortable. Hell, that girl in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was a terrible actress, but when her brother started trying to get it on with her, I had to turn the movie off and bail out of the house for awhile. Just having a brother try to hook up, that's going to be uncomfortable watching, it doesn't matter if the brother is played by Dabney Coleman or a bedpost.
The incest stories biggest problem isn't that it's offensive, its only gross when you're forcing yourself to think about it, and even then, the kids are barely on the show and can't determine any of the major plots. It's biggest problem is that it's a constant glowing reminder of useless, formula storytelling, which is Hung's larger problem--it's a show that doesn't have anything to say, and yet it has a production value (this episode was directed by Lisa Cholodenko) and enough solid performers to spin the plates for the 27 minutes that it takes to finish an episode. It knows how to do the dramatic, lead balloon moments, but it never follows up on any of those moments, and when the characters have to be onscreen for any longer than the two minutes or so each scene usually runs, they end up resorting to repeating the latest plot development in their own gimmicky character language. It's a show about ideas, not about story, and the thing is--and I'm not even sure how much I believe this, but I think I honestly believe it quite a bit--ideas aren't what television does well. Story is its primary bag, the forward movement of plots that carry you through the dialog, that sweep you past the miscast hacks and the suspend-your-disbelief tricks. When you have to stop--when a show doesn't move the plot, when it doesn't close the loops--you start seeing the make-up crack, the lack of walls, the repetition of sets, all the necessary fakery that a budget requires. At this point, Hung feels like a show that didn't seem to believe it had a future past the premise, but instead of struggling against the current, it's calmly letting the waves rise overhead. Slowly, placidly, stupidly, it's drowning...and no one seems to care.
-Sean Witkze & Tucker Stone, 2010