Pros:Duchovny is excellent, writing is fantastic.
Cons:It's only twelve episodes. You'll want more.
The Bottom Line: Californication proves that David Duchovny is more than just Fox Mulder -- a hilarious and occasionally touching show.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
After David Duchovny’s career-defining turn on Fox’s The X-Files, I often worried if the actor was going to be the Peter Falk of a new generation – a good performer forever trapped in typecasting Hell. It seemed that way for a while as Duchovny flirted with a feature film career (that never really took off for some reason) and eventually just sort of disappeared save for a second X-Files film and some small projects.
However, the actor got a second bite at the apple with the 2007 debut of Californication – Showtime’s adult-oriented series about a down and out writer (played brilliantly by Duchovny) screwing his way through Tinseltown as he tries to rebuild his relationship with his daughter and her mother.
Invariably, the first thing people tend to notice about the show is either the sex, the humor (which is solidly blue – prudish types need not bother with this series), or the dialogue – which has been honed to such a wickedly-sharp point that it’s damn near lethal. While each of those elements are certainly worthy of notice, the real beauty of Californication lies in how it manages to be something much deeper and really quite touching underneath the laughs, the copious amounts of naked female flesh, and the scathing lines delivered by Duchovny and crew. It’s ultimately the story of how a man who’s messed up everything tries to redeem himself and reconnect with those who are most important to him – particularly his daughter.
Californication is ostensibly a comedy – albeit one with some dramatic moments – but as the first season so capably demonstrates, it’s not a show that’s easily categorized. The amazing thing about creator Tom Kapinos’ work lies in the way the series fools the audience regularly. We think we’re watching a sort of raunchy comedy with hyer-stylized characters (and we are), but Kapinos and Duchovny are experts at sneaking in the subtext in an almost subliminal way.
The twelve episodes that make up the first season of Californication are hysterical, but a few of them (and not just the obvious California Son episode) manage to resonate in a much deeper way. It’s really quite impressive for television – which puts the series on almost the same level as shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men when the discussion of best television series comes about.
Hopefully, the discussion of all this subtext hasn’t put you off – because while Californication certainly does have some really interesting things to say on an almost subliminal level, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still hilarious.
Duchovny has always had a gift for deadpan and acerbic humor (as anyone who watched The X-Files can attest), but he’s given full reign to run with it as writer Hank Moody. Hank, raised in New York, is now in Los Angeles because one of his books has been turned into a (terrible) film. He’d cut ties and return to the Big Apple, except his longtime girlfriend Karen (Natasha McElhone) has left him for another man – taking his early teen daughter (Madeline Martin) with her. LA is the only place to be for Hank to keep his limited visitation rights active – and to try and woo back Karen. Plus there’s a wicked case of writer’s block involved that has people comparing his next novel to long-awaited Guns ‘N Roses Chinese Democracy album.
In between visits with Karen and daughter Becca, Hank finds ways to get himself in and out of jams, has plenty of sex, and exhibits a kind of self-loathing that is impressive in its profundity. Somehow, he manages to make it all look far more tolerable and exciting than it should be.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by the people in Hank’s life – including his agent Charlie (Evan Handler) and Charlie’s wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon), a Lolita-esque young woman who also happens to be the daughter of Karen’s new beau, and lots of ladies willing to eagerly throw themselves at Hank’s feet.
Each of the 12 episodes in the show’s first season comes in at just under 30 minutes. They have a self-contained quality to them, but they do tie together as well. I didn’t discover the show until the current fifth season, which means you can jump in anywhere, but I’d certainly recommend starting at the beginning for the full effect.
Kapinos has found perhaps the perfect on-screen avatar in Duchovny, who does the world-weary Hollywood nihilist thing amazingly well. Duchovny’s slightly older look works perfectly as an insouciant gone to seed character swimming upstream through a disastrous life of his own making. It’s not easy to take a mostly unpleasant character and make him likable, but Kapinos and Duchovny have succeeded with Hank. That Duchovny brings a certain vulnerability and nuance to the character is just a bonus.
For those worried that Duchovny would forever by known as Fox Mulder and nothing else, it’s okay to stop fretting. While we’ll always love his portrayal of the earnest and driven FBI agent who chased down aliesn and government conspiracies, Californication proves that the actor is more than capable of playing just one role.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age