Charlie Saxton says don't get hung up over

Hung.

The 19-year-old actor has come a long way from Bristol, where he graduated from Warren Snyder Elementary School and Bristol High.

He has had small parts in a few movies, and a bigger one in the soon-to-be-released Bandslam, about high schoolish musicians, with High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens. And he has done "motion-capture" animation and voice-over for a video game.

But now, with the behemoth Creative Artists Agency behind him (stable mates include Justin Timberlake, Steven Spielberg, LeBron James, and Oprah Winfrey), he's featured in HBO's latest comedy, premiering tomorrow at 10 p.m.

It's called Hung, and it's about high school basketball coach Ray Drecker, from Detroit, "the headwaters of a river of failure," who's desperate and down on his luck.

Saxton, who plays Drecker's son, Damon, sees a problem: "People might say, 'I'm going through these tough times myself. Why would I want to watch a show about it?' "

Drecker goes to a get-rich-quick seminar for some business hints. "Do your best with whatever gifts God gave you," says the instructor.

Well, Drecker does have the one gift.

"You think your times are tough?" Saxton says. "This guy literally has nothing but his well-endowment. We've got to laugh about something."

The premise, and all the talking around it that we're forced to do in the name of propriety, is kind of laughable. Tomorrow's premiere, in which Drecker's house, and all the memorabilia from a legendary high school sports career, burn up in a fire - not so much.

But the show picks up. The coach teams with another loser, who sidetracks her poetry-in-cupcakes business to become his pimp, as he tries to follow in the footsteps of the old Saturday Night Live character Fred Garvin, male prostitute. Jane Adams, nerdily cute, plays the frustrated poet-baker. Anne Heche plays Drecker's flibbertigibbet ex-wife.

There is dark, and potentially entertaining, comedy in this ode to desperation from Dmitry Lipkin (creator of the intensely underrated FX series The Riches) and Colette Burson, who has been involved in her share of edgy fare. Her work includes the 1999 indie flick Coming Soon, a comedic precursor to Gossip Girl, about rich high school girls seeking satisfying sex lives.

Saxton, nerdily cute himself, plays the male in a set of twins that has a Jack and Kelly Osbourne vibe, but is distinctly deeper and more sympathetic.

"He's emotionally bummed out," Saxton said, "confused as any teen about where he fits in, going Gothic as a way to express himself and feel out the problems."

"I went through a Goth phase for a week in sixth grade, shopped at Hot Topic in the Oxford Valley Mall, nothing too extreme. My parents are hippies. 'Whatever makes you happy,' they said.

"I look at the pictures now, and I kind of wish they would have said something to me."

Mom Drucie, an acting teacher, and dad Mark, a stage manager, play in an Irish bar band, the Connemarra Codfish Company. "We ruined their dreams of being rock stars," Saxton says, referring to himself and his older sister, Mianna.

He tagged along, at age 5, with his parents and Mianna, who'd expressed an interest in acting, when they went to visit legendary local talent manager Edie Robb. "She's like the grandmother from hell/heaven," Saxton says.

But she helped him get going on a career that lists his portrayal of Melvin, who has been described as a "needy nerd" in the video game Bully, as one of its high points.

He was 16. He started as just a "nasally nerd character voice," but the producers asked him to do the "mo-cap," in which actors are fitted with scads of sensors and move about in a computer environment to create onscreen animated characters.

"It was a little awkward for a bunch of teenage boys to be in one room together in spandex suits," he says, "but it really is me in that video game."

In real life, Saxton says, "I was the cool nerd in high school, band, drama club, but I was also nominated for homecoming king."

These are good times for nerds, and Saxton and his character are milking them. He was the only actor auditioned for the Hung role, Saxton says.

"As the series goes on, me and the creators and writers tried to make it so it wasn't the typical roll-your-eyes-to-your-father kind of guy, a little more sensitive and more mature than the cliche all teenagers are alike, and we all hate our parents."

Typically HBO sexy, though nothing too outrageous considering the premise, Hung plays coy with its titular body part. No full-frontal for star Thomas Jane. And not a hint of hanky-panky for Saxton, either.

"My friends say they'll check out the show, but if they see my pants coming down, they're canceling their subscriptions to HBO."

Any good reporter is forced to ask exactly what the son has inherited from the father. The topic has not been seriously discussed, Saxton says, but he has thought about it.

"Hung Jr. - that's what I'm aiming for in the second season."

Jonathan Storm:

Television

Hung

Tomorrow night at 10 on HBO