Getting Californicated

I’ll admit it: ever since LOST ended, I’ve sort of been in mourning.  Once Jack Shepard’s cry baby eye closed for the last time, I no longer had a show to cling to, one in which I was truly invested, one that actually moved me.  (You know where this is going.)

…Then I found Californication.

The print ads for the Showtime hit put me off of it for the first three seasons.  You want me to watch Duchovny get paid to indulge in his sex addiction?  With that virtual conveyor belt of vapid, faux-quirky young actresses who are basically like paper dolls with tits (usually fake) and perfectly curled hair down to their naked asses?

I may have had preconceived notions.

But for the most part, they were quickly proven wrong.  I wanted to hate Californication for its gratuitous nudity, its ubiquitous string of useless women, but most of the time, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t.  I’m not naive; I’m sure there are tons of viewers who use the show as spank material (when I was ten, I probably would have been one of them).  But the show that I’m watching isn’t about that, not at all.

The heart of Californication is, as many astute fans (and Double-D himself) have pointed out, in Hank Moody’s relationship with his friends and his disintegrating family, and his sheer inability to get out of his own way.  For those of you not familiar with the show, Hank is a New York writer trying to cope with rejection from his girlfriend Karen (the wonderful Natascha McElhone) and their teenage daughter Becca–not to mention trying to cope with living in L.A.

Hank is completely displaced and miraculously managing to keep his career and his agent, rarely if ever showing the well of pain he’s carrying around all the while.  On the surface, he’s wry, hilarious, and seemingly cool and uncaring.  He’s insanely charming, and women fall for it over and over, even and especially when they recognize that he’s not good for them.  Inside, Hank’s a fucking child, with a mildly serious drinking problem.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all known versions of this guy.  I certainly have, and that’s what’s so compelling about the show to me.  There’s real honesty in a character that simply can’t be saved from himself, all of his bad habits, no matter how glamorous they seem at the time, building and erupting in a horrible, heartbreaking conclusion.

The character of Hank wouldn’t work at all without David Duchovny.  While most other actors would make his super-hip, super-self-aware and self-deprecating demeanor insufferable, Duchovny’s trademark sleepy, understated drawl makes all those qualities real and charming.

If I knew Hank in real life, I would probably hate him.  (Actually, I’d probably make out with him a little, then hate him for not calling me.)  On TV, I sympathize with him to an alarming degree.  In the finale of season 3, a season widely criticized for its over-reliance on the show’s more crude humor, Hank ends up in serious trouble as a result of his indulgences.  When the credits rolled, I. fucking. lost it.  Nothing that serious happened, at least as far as dramatic television goes, but I was weeping as if it had–for ten minutes straight.  No exaggeration.

I think that ultimately there is a point to all the meaningless sex in Californication: it’s what makes the rest of it so meaningful.  That’s precisely why the formula of season 1 worked so well, with each episode a series of unemotional (unlikely) fucks capped by a dose of Hank’s depressing reality, whether it was Karen moving on with another man or Becca pulling away and growing up.

And the sex isn’t even always titillating; in fact, it’s often slapstick and sometimes grotesque.  Which brings me to the best part about this show: it’s painfully hilarious.

Exhibit A:

I could seriously watch that on a loop all day and not get tired of it.  But really, my laughs belong to the Runkles, Charlie (Evan Handler), Hank’s strange, neurotic, sex-crazed agent, and Marcy (Pamela Adlon), his brash, irreverent wife, who, for her diminutive nature, Hank lovingly refers to by different variations of Smurf.

Charlie and Marcy: Coke & Lobster

If that doesn’t convert you, I don’t know what will.  Pamela Adlon alone is reason enough to watch this show religiously.

It’s almost too good to be true: the show that makes me laugh the hardest also makes me cry the hardest.  It is completely unexpected and might just help to fill the void that LOST left behind.

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