- Hank Moody
Okay, everyone...pay attention: Vagina. Vagina, vagina, vagina. If that word or any of its variations (vaganus, pussy, snatch, etc.) make you uncomfortable, don't watch Californication. And while we're at it, let's get out some other words and phrases you should acquaint yourself with: angina, asshole bleaching, butt plug, clit-lit (and clit-boner), cocksucker, dick punch, "finger-banging your cat", labia, lady juice, pubis, sphincter, swamp ass, titty twister and "shucking your hairless clam." (George Carlin, we salute you!)
And that's just a taste of what awaits you in Showtime's adult-themed hit show that started in August of 2007. It's the male version of Sex and the City--the main protagonist is a sexually active writer/columnist, and his best friend is played by SITC regular Evan Handler--but Californication has a little more estrogen than Entourage. You can't always get what you want, and no one knows that better than Hank Moody (David Duchovny), an apathetic, egocentric, bitter, self-loathing sex fiend who never met a vice he didn't like. "I love women," he says. "I have all their albums."
But Hank frequently treats a lot of them like crap--which they (like his family) put up with. He's also stuck in a five-year bout with writer's block, although his third novel--the nihilistic God Hates Us All--has just been rewritten into a hit Hollywood film, a romantic comedy that goes against everything Hank believes in. But the kickbacks sure are nice: "As soon as I cashed that check, I wrapped my lips around the mighty erection that is the film industry and sucked hard, just like a good whore should."
Hank soon finds a new outlet as a blogger for Hell-A magazine, a gig he hates--just like the city itself. He yearns to ditch California and head back to New York City, and take his girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone) and their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin, channeling Christina Ricci circa The Addams Family) with him. But there's a big problem: Having tired of their relationship, Karen cheated on Hank and then left him. "Imagine my disappointment when you turned out to be the biggest cliché of them all, sitting there Googling yourself," she says, acknowledging that sex was the only thing they did right together. "You're out there sticking your dick in anything that moves."
She now lives in the Venice home of new boyfriend Bill (the ubiquitous Damian Young), with a wedding on the way. They are joined by Bill's 16-year-old attention-seeking daughter Mia (Madeline Zima, right), a modern-day Lolita who soon becomes a huge thorn in Hank's side. Meanwhile, Hank's best bud and agent Charlie (Handler) finds himself straying from wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon) after his sultry secretary Dani (Rachel Miner, below, redeeming herself for the aptly titled Penny Dreadful, one of the worst movies ever made) comes on to him.
The 12 episodes of the first season (each about a half-hour long; Season 2 premieres in the fall of 2008) have Hank constantly getting himself into hot water as he desperately tries to charm back Karen and be a good father to the whip-smart Becca, a budding musician who's more of an adult than any other character (and the most positively written female on the show). And boy does Hank have a lot of sex, but he does have his limits: "My testicles are not available for timeshare." It seems every woman in the city wants his junk, and almost all of them get it (he even gets an unintentionally man-inspired boner, or "broner", at one point), while Hank's vivid dreams provide more lewd opportunities for the show.
The raunchy material often goes for the jugular--be it verbal or visual--and frequently hits a homerun. It's gross and hysterical (think There's Something About Mary, but far better), and frequently had me (sorry, Hank!) LOL. Episode 2 has the funniest anal sex scene I have ever seen (and I've seen a lot of them, my friends), while one threesome builds to a disgustingly hysterical climax. Another threesome ends in equally memorable disaster, while a painful hook-up for Hank becomes a recurring joke. I also enjoyed Hank's attempted rescue of a lover's pooch (one with an ironic name).
I initially felt the series was heavily geared toward men. And while I still do, it does soften up a little after the first few episodes (the pilot seems to be in male fantasy overdrive, with the boob count at 6...err, 12). A lot of the women characters here--especially the ones who wander in and out of Hank's bed--may not be the best role models for your daughters, but as the show progresses it becomes clear that Hank does have a heart, and some of the lead female characters get more time to grow and shine--while also proving that their mouths are just as filthy. Still, when a publisher (the underused Mo Collins) notes of Hank's new novel, "It's like your early stuff: Not so juvenile, not so many lame boner jokes," I wondered if that was an acknowledgement from the writers.
For me, the show is frequently stolen by Adlon. Marcy provides some of the most jaw-dropping lines, all perfectly placed and delivered (many with an acerbic tone, epecially when she's trying to be accommodating to Charlie):
The deadpan Duchnovy (who is also an executive producer) is tailor-made for this role: His sour demeanor, unflappable visage and ability to say the most outlandish lines without batting an eye (or lip) is amazing ("It might be nice if I could fellate myself while farting The White Album, but I haven't been able to quite master that yet."). It's no wonder he won a Golden Globe for the role.
My biggest problem with the series hinges on Karen. Hank is constantly flirting with her from the first frame--and in virtually every scene they have together. He hugs her, leans in for a kiss and grabs her ass. Yet for someone supposedly over him and engaged to another man, Karen is surprisingly receptive to it. While she makes weak attempts to shrug him off, her constant smile tells a different story. It's impossible to believe for one second that she actually loves Bill and doesn't want to be with Hank. That makes it hard to buy into the idea that no one else sees it and calls them out (the Emperor has no clothes, people!).
Karen is too smitten, still drowning under Hank's spell. She acts like a giddy school girl far too much, which inhibits any sense of seriousness for the situation. The two act like they're a couple, so when Karen confesses "We need to start acting like we split up already!" in Episode 9, it comes way too late. Bill is a show space-filler ("A dial tone," as Hank says), an underdeveloped ass whose presence holds no actual importance--which apparently excuses Karen's horrid treatment of their relationship. I'm not sure if McElhone decided to play the character this way (she's certainly a fine actress, it's more a matter of her take on the character) or if Karen was written like that. Either way, it's distracting.
But I forgive that major problem because the show keeps me chuckling. While some of the story arcs head into slightly absurd, unbelievable territory, it's all performed with such gusto by the talented cast that it's easy to overlook. The dialogue is razor sharp and unapologetically sexual, and the series is a rollicking, raunchy ride that will make you laugh. And with episodes like the emotionally moving "California Son", it proves it's more than just a one (dirty) trick pony. Depending on how open you are to some blue material, Californication will crack you up. (Tee hee! I said 'crack'!)
1. Pilot (aired 8/13/07) A transplanted author suffers from writer's block and is disappointed that his novel has been turned into a romantic comedy for the big screen. He also learns his ex is engaged and that their 12-year-old daughter is acting on her "emerging sexuality."
5. LOL (aired 9/10/07) Hank accepts Bill's invitation to speak at Mia's high-school creative-writing class---but there's a catch; at an appearance on a radio show hosted by Henry Rollins, Hank rants about the Internet and its negative impact on the written word.
9. Filthy Lucre (aired 10/8/07) A sudden influx of cash from a movie-royalty check sends Hank on a spending spree, but his largesse isn't fully appreciated by all the recipients; Hank writes a manuscript while at his father's funeral in New York; Marcy has surprising news for Charlie.
On Disc 2, you get text biographies for the five lead actors, and a show photo gallery. You can also pop the disc into your computer to enter a Showtime sweepstakes, and get streaming access (via Ebridge technology) to the first two episodes of the second seasons of Dexter and The Tudors. Unfortunately, you get no behind-the-scenes interviews or features. Maybe next season, guys?