HBO has become a master of the hour-long format but with few exceptions, I don’t connect with their half-hour shows. Hung: The Complete First Season (HBO) is no exception. Thomas Jane stars as Ray, a former high school sports hero aged into a divorced, depressed high school basketball coach. Inspired by a business seminar to discover his “winning tool,” he embarks on a new extracurricular career as a gigolo in partnership with Tanya (Jane Adams), a flaky poet turned unconventional pimp.
The sense of disappointment with life and career is timely enough and the depressed Detroit setting only adds to the atmosphere of economic instability and panic. Ray himself lives in a tent as he works to rebuild the home he burns down in the first episode. But while the cast is top notch (Anne Heche co-stars as his ex and Eddie Jemison is her successful new husband) and the scripts filled with satirical jabs, the show is more eccentric than evocative. Entertaining, sure, and the loyalty that the talented amateur Ray shows toward his energetic but untalented manager/promoter Tanya is touching, a human connection in a business where human contact is a commodity, but the show hasn’t quite found its rhythm or its identity yet.
10 episodes on two discs, plus commentary on three episodes by creators/executive producers Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin and writer Brett C. Leonard. Also includes the featurettes “About Hung” and “The Women of Hung” plus Ray and Tanya’s personal ads from the show.
Riverworld (Vivendi) – The Sci-Fi Channel first adapted Philip Jose Farmer’s cult novel series as a disappointing TV-movie in 2003. After seven years and a network name change, the recently rebranded SyFy takes a second pass at an adaptation, expanding from a short feature to a three-hour (without commercials) production, this time with Tahmoh Penikett (late of Dollhouse and Battlestar Galactica) in the lead, Peter Wingfield (who owes his cult credentials to the Highland TV series) as Richard Burton and Alan Cumming putting on another coat of Nightcrawler blue to play an alien overlord. There’s more going on this time, but not much more. The narrative scope is still lacking, in both the metaphysical dimensions of Farmer’s cycle of novels and the scale of the world itself (the 20 million mile river of the books is much shorter here, and the resurrected human race much smaller). It’s all but set-up for a sequel (or perhaps a continuing series of telefilms) but it demands a significantly larger narrative scope, something on the scale of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, and with a producer really committed to carving something special out of that time. This is practically flavorless and ultimately without any distinctive identity, just another SyFy original movie with better production values. The sole supplement is a three-minute featurette of co-star Alan Cumming getting his make-up applied.
Entourage: The Complete Sixth Season (HBO) – With hot young Hollywood star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) back on track (thanks to a starring role in a Martin Scorsese film) in the sixth season of HBO’s lively insider Hollywood comedy-drama, the entourage starts to strike out on their own career paths. Best friend and manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) joins a rival agency, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) faces a career crisis and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) goes to school while juggling a real romance (with Jamie-Lynn Sigler) in the public eye. But as usual it’s Jeremy Piven’s endlessly entertaining agent Ari Gold that tends to steal the show, this time as he puts his assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee) through a serious hazing. It’s getting a little tired by now but the guys are still fun to hang with. And I’m a bit smitten with Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Sloan, who’s on-again, off-again relationship with Eric is back in the gray area. 12 episodes on three discs in a foldout digipak, plus commentary on three episodes (by creator Doug Ellin and members of the cast), two featurettes and Matt Damon’s mock “ONEXONE” PSA. The new season begins at the end of June on HBO.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Complete Book 1 (Collector’s Edition) (Paramount) – “Long ago the four nations lives in harmony.” It may look like an anime but this original animated series, about a world where tribes are aligned with the elements and champions from each tribe master the control of water, earth, fire and air, was an American creation for the Nickelodeon channel. With the live-action feature set for release this summer, the first season is back on DVD. The collection, featuring 20 episodes plus featurettes and the original 15-minute pilot (with commentary) in a six-disc digipak, was originally released in 2006. The new edition includes an exclusive bonus disc with the new 31-minute documentary “Avatar Spirits” on the origins of the show and the two friends who created it, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, plus a booklet with art and designs for the series.
Plus Family Guy: Volume Eight (Fox), with 15 episodes from the seventh and eighth seasons, and American Dad!: Volume 5 (Fox).