Give Californication this: The Showtime series, whose second season is new on DVD from CBS/Paramount, is cleverly and aptly named. It seems “Sex and the City” already was taken, so Californication works quite nicely, thanks–especially since this show is utterly, totally and shamelessly obsessed with sex.
It’s also utterly, totally and shamelessly obsessed with sex from the viewpoint of folks hitting middle age –you know, statistically the most horny time for men –NOT! But when your producer, director, star and head honcho is David Duchovny, who’s 49 and pushing 50, and his ego must be fed, stroked and — uh, let’s stop there — then you must make concessions. In short, you must throw all pretense to reality, balance and believability to the winds of wanton wildness, and you must let DD’s Hank Moody bask in the tawdry glow of being a once-great but now rarely-working writer who disdains LA yet bites into its forbidden (and readily offerred) fruit whenever he gets the chance — which is, oh, about every time he turns around.
Even though his ex-wife (Natasha McElhone) jilted her new fiance and took Hank back, and even though Hank vows to stay on the wagon of monogamy in her honor (as if), it seems every bar, party and jail cell harbors someone he knows who offers sex as if extending a stick of gum. Actually, I don’t even give away gum so readily.
But that’s LA for you, right? Or, at least, it’s LA in this guy’s wettest of dreams, where Hank is always the most irresistible guy in Hollywood, as if he’s Warren Beatty’s character from Shampoo on sex-roids. No matter that no one reads so they don’t even know he’s a has-been celeb. No matter that writers are the most lowly regarded creative types in Tinseltown. No matter that Hank is scruffy, unkempt and probably has bad breath from all his boozing and smoking. No matter that he’s not the fittest guy in a town of flat-ab obsessions–he’s Hank, and it says right here in the script that he’s irresistible! Got it?
But I forgive such contrivance and excess–mostly–because mostly this show has superb writing and strong performances — and because I love little Madeleine Martin as Hank and his ex-wife’s goth-chick teen daughter, who speaks with such intelligence and eloquence that you ache to protect her from the madness that is her parents’ lives. (Actually, her mom is an architect, ahem–allegedly, though she hardly ever works and looks like a model and dresses and often acts like she’s 17–but I digress.)
Yes, the show still takes too many sex-plex turns too often–perhaps even more in Season Two. And yes, such shock value wears off, oh, around the time the opening teaser and credits are done. But at least in other respects Californication feels real enough, with real people doing crazy things that are still real, given the phony company-town context, because hey, we’ve gotten to know them, and the cast is damn good.
That includes Callum Keith Rennie as Lew Ashby, a music magnate who’s even more degenerate than Hank, yet just as lovable in his warped way (and love that company town name, an amalgam of Lou Adler and Hal Ashby perhaps?). Lew is truly this season’s life force, along with superb song-score choices such as the moving final episode’s It’s My Life by the Animals and, of course, California Dreaming by the Mamas and Papas.
Hank, Lew and all the rest are just looking for love–or lust–in all the wrong places, so let’s cut them slack. After all, they gamely keep on trying, keep on grinding away and — oops, now they’ve got me doing it. But the bottom line, beyond the bottoms and other body parts, is quite simply their shared humanity, not their shared bodily fluids. And that’s why there’s one thing that draws me to the raw but real glories of Californication — and it’s not horniness.