Ray Drucker is the coach of a losing high school basketball team in Detroit. On the day of a game, he complains of kidney stones so that he can begin moonlighting as a male escort. Ray takes us back through the choices that got him to this point. First of all, educators don't make a lot of money. His wife left him for a dermatologist and he ended up moving back into his childhood home, which had been vacated when his parents died. His teenaged twins moved in with him until there was a house fire. Ray had let his insurance lapse, so he was really in the hole. His rich neighbor offers to buy his property, but he refuses to sell his parents' house. Having unsuccessfully asked his ex-wife for a loan and feeling pretty dejected, he sees a marketing flier for a motivational speaker who purports to teach people how to get rich. The speaker's main talking point is that each person has a special talent within his or herself that can make them rich. Tanya Skagle comes into the seminar late and Ray recognizes her. She is a poet who had sat in on his History class as a part of some program that had poets assist with teaching. They had slept together (where Ray's size was mentioned), but he never called her afterwards because she's sort of a hippie and a vegan and wears patchouli. After the class, they go for tea and end up having sex again. He tries to leave immediately afterwards and she accuses him of being distant. They argue and she suggests that, in order to become rich, he market his big wang. He lets the idea marinate and, in the next class, Ray imagines that he announces that his winning tool is his big penis. He puts an ad in the back of the newspaper, offering the services of his dick. We're back in the present where Ray goes to a hotel for his first assignment. He knocks on the door and a note is slipped under the door to him, "Sorry-- changed my mind." When he gets a little upset, the reluctant client also slips a 50 under the door, too. Tanya catches up with him later and he shows her his ad. She has a lot of criticism for his ad and offers to help him sell himself. In simpler terms, she becomes his pimp. Later, he finds his son, Damon, and gives him the 50 bucks he earned so that he can go to a rock show. Ray feels good about his new direction.
And, so it begins. Here is the title sequence. Thomas Jane is in a suit and walking through downtown Detroit as a blues rock song is playing. Whoops, he loses his jacket. There goes his tie. He unbuttons his shirt and walks past a deserted warehouse. There go his shoes. I have a feeling that he's taking all of his clothes off. Nice job, HBO, let's cut right to the chase. Maybe "cut" isn't the right word. Seriously, folks, there are going to be a lot of those. I'll try to restrain myself. I'm right, he's taking them all off. So, Thomas Jane is stacked, yes? By the time he's out of all of his clothes, his ass is staring at us. He's at the end of a pier on a lake, then he jumps in. He's floating on his back and looks up and at that camera. We see that this episode is directed by Alexander Payne, then we cut to darkness.
There's an American flag! And a bouncy Aaron Copeland-esque score! The sky is so blue! And, there's a sports stadium that is being demolished, backed by Thomas Jane telling us that everything is falling apart. He tells us that it all started here in Detroit, the "headwaters of a river of failure." Wow. That is harsh and fancy. I've always been fascinated by Detroit (never been there) and I'm not sure why. Probably because it's so "American" and everyone I meet from Detroit is pretty cool. Did you know that you can buy a house in Detroit on eBay for like 75 cents? I'm not even kidding. Here's an image of a car being crushed. Oh, economy. Our narrator says the he's glad his parents aren't around to see everything turn to shit. They were "normal" Americans with "normal" jobs. His parents weren't pummeled by property taxes and homeowner associations and beauty queen ex-wives. Hmm, I think our narrator is revealing something about himself.
Now, we get our first glimpse of Thomas Jane. He's dressed in coach's garb (khakis and polo with school logo on it) and is walking hesitantly into a locker room. He VO's that his parents wouldn't give him any excuses for the way his life has turned out, if they were alive. They would tell him to get the job done, no excuses. You have to do the best with whatever God-given gifts you possess. I can wiggle my ears. Now, he's standing in front of a high school basketball team. He VO's that he tries to teach "his kids" (players as well as real kids?) the same thing. He shows them a picture of some weird insect -- a dung beetle. He explains that a dung beetle carries around his ball of shit all of the time. He eats it, sleeps with it, and talks to it at night. This is making me sick. He asks the players if they know what point he's getting at. "More man on man coverage?" "No Jerry." Well, Jerry's guess is just as good as anyone's. If someone could explain the goal of esoteric rhetorical questions, I'd really like to know. I mean, first of all, he's talking about a beetle. Who's really going to connect that with high school basketball? Maybe Dennis Miller. Second, he doesn't want them to answer correctly because it would ruin the impact of the speech. Not to mention, there's no correct answer anyway, because this is all going to be some crazy metaphor. So just GET ON WITH IT. Seriously, one of my least favorite things in the world. But, it does reveal that our protagonist may be a pretty clever thinker. Anyhoo, Thomas Jane tells us that, unlike the dung beetle, the team shouldn't be lugging their shit around with them, especially not on the court for their game this evening. He points out that shit happens -- one of the players' girlfriend just broke up with him, another dropped a weight on his foot, yet another will not be able to play on the team if he gets another bad day. In fact, just like last year, it looks like the team is going to get their teeth kicked in every week! This guy is really not hitting all of the notes required in a pep talk. He's grimacing a little and an assistant coach asks him if he's OK. He says that he is. He finishes by telling the team to leave their shit in the locker room and pretend that they're on the winning streak that they are going to start this evening.
As the team heads to the court, he pats them all on the back. Then when they're all gone, he grabs his side and falls to his knee. The assistant asks "Ray" if he's all right. He says that it feels like another kidney stone. The assistant wonders if he'd like for him to call the nurse. No, he'll be fine, he says. Then, he grabs his side again as he suffers from an apparent second wave of pain. On second thought, Ray says, he thinks he'll drive himself to the hospital. He tells the assistant coach to "run the system" while he's gone. The assistant replies that he doesn't know the system as well as Ray, so Ray breaks it down and tells him to "put up some screens and give the ball to Donovan." Then, he takes off, leaving the assistant coach perplexed.
Ray exits the back of the building and, once he's out of sight, stops clutching his side. We see him driving in his red SUV as he gets on I-75 for downtown Detroit. He VO's that he lied and he's not proud of that, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We see Ray changing into a sports jacket behind a graffiti-marked building amidst a bunch of overgrown weeds. Broken glass? Rats? Watch yourself, Ray, you're about to gift yourself with some tetanus real quick. He asks us if we know how much a schoolteacher makes these days, then concedes that a teacher in Michigan makes more than the national average. Really? He adds that the national average is "more than a waiter, less than a plumber. It's about half of what it takes to live a normal life." Um, that's a little snotty. Plumbers actually make pretty good money. Have you ever used one? Arm and a leg. I think Mr. Ray here must look down on plumbers. He says that a lot of teachers have side gigs. Some day trade, some use eBay. He tells us that his side gig is the oldest profession in the world. So, being a whore is more attractive than plumbing. He is in a hotel and straightening himself up in front of a mirror. He tells us that this is his first day on the job. Maybe he was really in pain before, from the fierce waxing he got for preparation? As he walks down the hallway of the hotel, he tells us that he has had a rough couple of years. Looks like we're flashing back to those rough years.
He says that it all started when his wife, Jessica, divorced him after 20 years of marriage and two kids. We see him unloading a moving truck with the help of his teenage kids. He had to kick the renters out of his deceased parents' house (where he grew up) and move in there. The bright spot, he tells us, was that his twins wanted to live with him. Then, he had a kidney stone, which turned into a prostate scare. We see him getting a rectal exam from a female doctor. Prelude of things to come. Then, the basketball team he coaches has had an unprecedented losing streak, which means that angry people toilet paper his house all of the time. Also, a prick lawyer moved into the McMansion next door to his older more modest home. He had already been given grief from the homeowner's association regarding the upkeep of his property, but the lawyer is apparently much worse. His name is Howard Koontz and we see him introduce himself to Ray with a smile. Even his property is higher than Ray's and he's literally talking down to him as they have a conversation. He tells Ray that he's having an open house that weekend, which Ray takes as an invitation. What he's really saying though is he'd like for Ray to clean out his gutters and tidy up his lawn. In all fairness, his place looks pretty dumpy. Ray VO's that the fucker got Ray cited three times by the homeowner's association in the first month that he lived there. Clean the damn gutters, Ray.
The worst thing, Ray tells us, was yet to come. We see his house, late at night. Everyone's asleep. There's a lamp on in the living room. We see his mantle filled with sports trophies from his youth. There's an electrical outlet with multiple power strips -- extension cords everywhere. The leg of a chair is pressing on an electrical