If ever there was a show that reeked of high school boys' locker room or the improbable scenarios of moist nighttime dreaming, Showtime's Californication is it. Loud, crass, bawdy, with some heart, occasional soul, but mostly lots and lots of other body parts (and I don't mean arms and legs), it's cable TV at its randiest. It is, after all, premiere cable, code for great stories with naked bodies and enough sex to bump the brink of porn. Which can be fun in the right hands. The Tudors. The Sopranos. Hung. But in the sweaty palms of executive producers Tom Kapinos and David Duchovny, Californication is a study in the kind of panting, hyperbolic male fantasy that is completely bereft of reality, particularly when it comes to women.
I was an early fan. Loved the insouciance, the irreverence; the utter anarchy of it all, and The Graduate ending of that first season was laugh-out-loud exhilarating. I enjoyed David Duchovny's slacker charm. LOVED Natascha McElhone. Found Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon's schtick funny/crass and completely over-the-top. Madeleine Martin was uniquely effective, if a bit one-note, and the stunt casting was often memorable -- and not always in a good way, particularly Kathleen Turner's sticky turn as Sue Collini. The show has been, by turns, profane, cheeky, contemptuous, and wry, but unfortunately none of that has left it immune to the bane of series television: becoming yawningly predictable and downright silly. And like that relationship you hold on to because of a great first year, I've stuck it out, too often wondering why. It may just be time to let go.
The problem? Delusional sexual oversaturation.
Perhaps unfathomable on a premiere cable show supposedly based the alter ego of rock star author, Charles Bukowski, but much like the folly of eating chocolate to the point of gut-churning aversion, Californication's obsession with all things sexual -- the relentless, inescapable menu of every word, thought, or act ever imagined in that boys' locker room -- has actually caused it to become - dare I say? -- unsexy.
Hard to fault depictions of women as sexual beings keeping pace with their typically hornier male counterparts and it can be fun to watch a hot chick slap bawdy repartee with the best of the bad boys, but in the humid world that is Californication, every single woman who comes in contact with Duchovny's character, Hank Moody, unequivocally, immediately and sometimes inexplicably wants to bed him in a bad way. Every woman. Really bad.
That would be fine -- given the tone and tenor of the show -- if there was even a modicum of recognizable real-life behavior attached to this Cal-equation of "Hank plus breath plus female = immediate sex," but it's actually become a running joke in my house, timing how long it will take any new female character to drop trou for our rakishly charming but slightly skeazy anti-hero. Typically it's within minutes. It doesn't matter if they're young, oldish, jail-bait, married, involved or even a Scientologist, the only requisite is that they're breathing, willing to get naked, and hot (the chunky ones are relegated to the court-jester that is Evan Handler's Charlie Runkle). Which compels the question: every woman? Really?? There's not one woman in the sphere of this character who can possibly resist his quipping, carnal come ons? Apparently not.
When this season began with the introduction of Carla Gugino's lawyer, Abby Rhodes -- whip-smart, principled and refreshingly immune to Hank's weary act -- my respect for the writers actually peaked for a moment, believing they'd come to their senses to realize the show desperately needed a shot of something distinct and unexpected. A hot woman who didn't want to sleep with Hank Moody would have been both. But no. Within weeks, completely against character but utterly in lock-step with the mind-numbing mission statement of the show, even Able Abby threw her principles to the wind and her panties to the floor when Hank's infallible appeal broke her down. Women watching around the country threw things at the TV set ... and it wasn't their underwear!
There is clearly a sociological and gender debate to be had regarding the supreme delusion perpetrated weekly on this show regarding how women respond to men. The writers (and I was stunned to learn there are two females in that lecherous group!) would have us believe that their character, Hank, is so appealing and irresistible that breathless, boundary-less women have no choice but to succumb. Clearly it's thought that there's much fun to be had in reducing all female characters to rapacious sexual carnivores utterly lacking in impulse control (can we ever forget Embeth Davitz's salivating dean or Eva Amurri's strip-teasing student?). Not one woman in the bunch has a moral compass, a sense of decorum or even the slightest revulsion to a male character who, despite some dubious charm, also looks like he might need a good hosing down and a visit to the free clinic.
Then there's daughter-mama, Karen, all winsome adoration and giggling forgiveness, who can't seem to hold a position of strength for more than one angry retort or two, no matter that Duchovny's character cyclically and grievously hurts and betrays both her and their child on a regular basis. He is always, always, forgiven with the simple flick of a grin and just the right turn of a phrase, an appallingly glib dismissal of the kind of repetitive dysfunction that, in the real world, destroys marriages, ruins relationships, sets children up for a life of turmoil, loses jobs and lands people in jail or rehab. Just look at the recent train wreck that is Charlie Sheen; his behavior (apart from the violence) is on a par with Hank Moody's but the consequences offer a brutal, less charming, and much more realistic outcome. Hard to laugh along with Hank's mischief when what is reflected in real life is so profoundly at odds with the delusional merriment.
Given its persistent story arc, it seems unlikely that much will change with this show. Season after season they've served up dirty-mouthed men and women, hyper-sexualized nubiles, endlessly kinky conundrums, lascivious sex partners served on a platter and Hank Moody licking his ever-smirking chops...wash, rinse, dirty, repeat, yawn. But still, I challenge the writers to give us some real-life consequence for our cop-smacking, teen-bedding Hank, and perhaps a hot female character who actually finds him sophomoric, redundant and utterly resistible. A woman with spine and conviction for whom no amount of Hank-erin' will break her down. Just try it. You might like the creative dilemmas it poses for our bad boy and, for just once, the lack of ready sex might actually be ... sexy.
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