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God bless, Margo Martindale.
As anyone who has been watching topflight television for the last half-decade knows—or should know at least – Martindale is the secret weapon in TV’s new golden age. The Texas-born actress has created unforgettable and often unforgivable characters like Appalachian kingpin Mags on Justified (for which she won an Emmy), or loyal-to-a-fault KGB supervisor Claudia in The Americans (for which she was just nominated). And this is not to mention her work in countless films, including the already Trunkworthy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The Savages.
Martindale only appears once in HBO’s Hung—she’s featured in the third episode of the first season. But with her appearance in “Pickle Jar” as married-but-unsatisfied housewife Molly, she injects the comic drama with her trademark pathos and conniving wit and helps propel the show through three consistently surprising seasons. Her episode marks the moment that this series about a down-on-his-luck high school basketball coach turned male escort truly begins to take flight, becoming so much more than what it first appeared to be—the latest opportunity to push the content boundaries of pay-cable programming.
Premiering in June 2007, just nine months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Detroit-based Hung plays out like an adult fable of the new economic reality: How would you survive stripped down to nothing more than what your creator gave you? If you’re Ray, an ex-jock and father of teenaged twins who ambles indifferently through a career as coach and history teacher at the alma mater he once ruled over, the gift you were granted was the outsized member that gives the show its title. When he looses his lakeside home in a house fire, he recruits lapsed poet and former one-night-stand Tanya to serve as his pimp and becomes a prostitute—or as Tanya puts it in her viral marketing campaign a “happiness consultant.”
Needless to say, these are not criminal masterminds in the mold of the same network’s Sopranos. Ray is a well-meaning dolt and Tanya is a bundle of barely contained neurotic impulses. Played by Thomas Jane and Jane Adams, they epitomize the truth we too often encounter in real life but seldom on the tube: like it or not, we carry around our high school years with us like a loadstone. They define us powerfully and often painfully. For many, those were the last moments of true possibility, before life started to grind away our sense of joy and discovery, when the pursuit of happiness still felt a birthright.
Getting back to Martindale, seeing her in an hour drama is a sign that you’re in good hands, that the details are going to be taken care of and you can just relax. Created by Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson (Lipkin was the creative force behind equally provocative and under-appreciated 2007 drama The Riches, which also featured Martindale), Hung gets all the little things right, from the lifeless high school assemblies to the often ruthless way some women can interact in the workplace. The show is able to uncover all the varying colors hiding within the shadow of their concept, no matter how high, and yes, large.
Trunkworthy Bonus Cut: From the fiendish minds of writer Diablo Cody and director and Transparent creator Jill Soloway comes Funny Or Die’s NSFW Hung parody Tight. Starring a hilariously game Michaela Watkins as a bored housewife with a very peculiar gift, this short not only cleverly flips the Hung concept on its head, but also contains perhaps the best speculum gag in human history.