21 August 2008

Californication: The Most Rock 'n Roll Show on Television

Unless you like aliens, David Duchovny is the best kept secret on television - or in all of Hollywood for that matter. Californication not only proves how dumb America is getting (in more ways than one) but it also delivers one of the best casts I've had the fortune of seeing since Six Feet Under. In a strange way I feel like they're similar. Both focus on a man in his thirties grappling with mortality, father issues, and difficult women. Both also take the phrase 'sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll' to an extreme. Screenwriters, most of whom I would assume are in fact in their thirties, really fancy themselves the laid back rock stars capable of picking up the hottest chick in the club. That alone is interesting - or as Rachel Miner's character Dani California (whose father taught me acting) would say, "It's not anything - It's a fantasy."

All of the characters in this series are brutally injured emotionally by things normal people have to go on accepting in their daily lives. David Duchovny's character, Hank Moody, literally wrecks his entire life because he doesn't understand how he destroyed the one relationship that meant anything to him. To numb the pain, he has meaningless sex with random women, chain smokes, drinks every night, and begs his ex every chance he gets to come home. Like the first heroin fix of a drug addict, he's looking for the same high he once had with the unbelievably gorgeous Natascha McElhone (Karen). He tries to balance this with being a semi-successful writer and father to his exceptionally mature 12 year old daughter, Becca.

But here's why the show is really great: The writers have completely captured what it feels like to be doing one thing on a normal basis while wanting to do something else the entire time. They clearly depict the pitfalls of pretending to be normal while secretly knowing it's totally impossible. They show a man waking up each day, reading the newspaper, going about the errands of the afternoon as if he were like everyone else but underneath this man is so ruined from how good he once had it that there's no way for him to carry on regularly. He has to soak his sorrows in the form of addictive behavior and bad habits. He has a strong taste for records and music but what happens in one of the episodes? He has sex with a hippie and she steals them all! It's the one time we see Hank Moody care for any material possessions throughout the entire series - albeit only slightly. Everything seems to fall apart for him.

The key moment for me that enables perfect understanding of Hank's character is when he purchases a new convertible with the bonus he recieves from one of his novels. His agent tells him to go buy something nice and although he's completely uninterested, he finds himself looking at his car (which he says has 'character') and being too lazy to clean it - so hey, get a new one instead! Obviously, disaster ensues and the car is stolen from him at gunpoint. What does he do? Takes out a cigarette and forgets about the car. I know this sounds far from reality but to me, I understand completely. All he really wants to do with that money is buy an antique ring for Karen who is engaged to another man -which he does. He never cared about the car, it was just something to bide time with, something that would make him appear normal. He just wants her love.

Karen, on the other hand, tries hard to be normal. It's clear from the first episode that she still loves Hank but she had to move on. Although they look perfect together, have similar interests, and hold on to each other's hands a little too long in public, she is with someone else and insists to Hank that she doesn't care for him anymore. It's sometimes painful to watch how much he loves her without open reciprocation. It makes the audience wonder why she would hold back so much - until the flashbacks. These clips, in high contrast to signify the past, show Hank getting so wrapped up in his work he can barely talk to her. She stays cool and mentions it only when she has to. It gets to the point where he can't even look at her and finally she tells him that to her, "fucking and talking go hand in hand". Basically admitting that she's having an affair with someone who gives her attention. Hank is devastated, she walks out, and he pulls her into a passionate kiss as if that will save something. He's not even mad at her - more at himself. She pulls away and runs out. It's pretty heartbreaking.

The strangest thing about this show has nothing to do with plot: it's the audience. I definitely thought, based on reviews and friends who have watched it, that it would be all sex, all the time. I thought the nudity was intense and the scenes were graphic. It seemed like that's all anyone mentioned. How could so many people miss the point? Look at Hank's face in the middle of it - sometimes he's rolling his eyes, sometimes he's even literally sighing like, "Get off of me, already." This isn't some playboy that wants a hot piece of ass. This is a broken man who wants the love of his life back and has to fill in the "meantime".

The end of season one left me on the floor at 5am silently thinking about it for more than an hour. If you've ever felt like you'd take up every bad habit known to man to get away from your head for a minute or you've ever felt like the people around you think of love like a disease, than this is the show you have to watch.

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