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Why the Dowdy Teens From Hung Trump the Plastics From Gossip Girl

Hung is not a realistic show: It's about Ray, a well-endowed teacher-coach in Detroit (Thomas Jane), who burns down his house, needs some cash, and meets a meek failed poet in his night-school class, who, after sleeping with him, decides to become his pimp. It's unbelievable from the micro level to the macro: Who in Detroit has disposable income for male prostitutes? However, there is one facet of the show that is blindingly realistic: Ray's teenage twins, Damon (Charlie Saxton) and Darby (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), who look nothing like Ray or his ex-wife, played by Anne Heche. In fact, they look and act nothing like any teenagers you'll see on TV. The doughy-lipped Saxton gives Damon, a semi-Goth, an endearing, concentrated stare, while Smit-McPhee's medium build in a television landscape of Gossip Girls is unheard of. Damon and Darby are insecure and full of teen frustration, though uncommunicative and huffy with their parents. When they do speak to their mom, it's in one- or two-sentence huffs, with none of the witticisms you'll find in the Josh Schwartz universe of teens who speak in full paragraphs and sound like they're 30-year-old writers.


The presence of these two characters, whose looks and lines feel ripped right out of the halls of your high school, brings Hung back down to earth, and is what makes the show worth watching. Damon and Darby are neither perfect (Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Everwood) nor aggressively weird (Californication). They're just normal. "I've seen a lot of the same version of sullenness on television, a certain passive-aggressive, sardonic, witty sullenness," says Collette Burson, a co-creator of Hung along with her husband, Dimitry Lipkin. "I wasn't interested in that. I was really interested in basing them on teenagers I knew. For example, my best friend in high school: She had this way of being like a rock. She was passive, but not passive aggressive. Damon and Darby are not critical, they're not biting, they're not witty. They're just sort of present and calm."


After they created the characters, Burson and Lipkin were faced with the challenge of finding the right actors to embody them. "During auditions, we were sent a lot of 28-year-old models to play teenagers, and we had to look long and hard for them, particularly Sianoa," says Burson. "She's so beautiful, but not in a traditional Hollywood way. And these kids are both really 17, which is why it took so long to find them." Lipkin adds, "We never said we needed an overweight girl; we never had any preconceptions about what they'd look like. We just wanted them to be very real."


Inevitably, Hung has been criticized for its unconventional casting. As much as people may say they want diversity on television, as soon as it actually pops up, there's bound to be a some bad reactions. On message boards, posters cruelly call the kids "fat and ugly" and "trollish". Burson says they can go to hell. "I do feel like we take flack, like with this idea that they're not traditionally attractive. And I feel like that's so ridiculous. Because, first of all, look carefully at Sianoa. She's fucking beautiful. I'll put her up against any plasticized, blonde Barbie model any day of the week. When did that become the idea of perfection?"


Photo: HBO