Duchovny’s ‘Californication’ may grow on you

Coming so soon after The TV Set, Californication — David Duchovny’s Showtime series about a disillusioned writer in La-La’s shark-infested waters — seemed at first overly familiar. But the show, whose 12 first-season episodes hit DVD Tuesday from CBS and Paramount, is much more.

Actually, it starts as less, in that the first couple of episodes are all about how shiftless, writer-block-hit novelist Hank Moody (Duchovny), who flourished back home on the East Coast but is aghast at L.A.’s warped movie biz, is not only God’s gift to writing but also God’s gift to women. Everyone talks about him like he’s the best thing ever to touch a keyboard, and women flock to him as if he’s People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. For such scenes, the Austin Powers-style crotch shielding is an inadvertent joke.

But for all his sexual conquests, Hank is unhappy. He can’t write for these Hollywood creeps, and he’s estranged from his girlfriend (Natascha McElhone), who’s also the mother of his young daughter (Madeleine Martin), a budding rocker with Bettie Page bangs. The guy has grown up enough to know that’s where he belongs: with the two leading ladies of his life.

Hank is desperate to reconnect, but not so desperate that he’ll turn down the bedmate of the moment. This gets awfully monotonous and contrived, making Hank seem more virile and desirable than Warren Beatty in Shampoo — and flattering the hell out of Duchovny. (Poor Tea, to have to watch this.)

But the show soon takes off, by exploring Hank’s relationships. Most of all, it sings with soulfulness given the fact that Californication, in its tarnished Hollywood heart of hearts, is about one glorious thing that doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. It’s about chivalry. Hank loves women — loves them — and he does what he can to protect and comfort them (while also having hanky-panky fun in the process).

Last time I checked, the last movie or series to champion this ancient quality was Sin City, albeit in an entirely different vein of fantasy violence. Californication’s fantasies spring more from its small-world contrivances and the obsessive and kinky horniness of everyone on screen, a uniformity as absurd and simple-minded as it is in Boston Legal. But like that show, this one rings with zingers in its dialogue, as it rips the phoniness of overrated Tinseltown product disguised as art, and that of so many people who aren’t honest with themselves, much less others.

I know that I’m hooked, and I eagerly await season two this fall. Until then, skip the kind of entertainment Hank rightly calls “more empty than a Michael Bay joint” and check out this witty diatribe on our junk-food pop culture and those who purvey it. Like Hank as he hungers for his ladies, you just might find yourself falling in love.




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