The First Season
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All photos © Showtime
Reviewed by Will Harris
hen David Duchovny skipped out of “The X-Files” in 2001 over a contract dispute (more or less), one presumes he had high hopes of transforming his TV stardom into a motion picture career, but since neither “Playing God” nor “Return to Me” had been strong box office performers prior to his departure from the show, it really shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Duchovny’s star began to fall pretty quickly. The sci-fi comedy “Evolution” seemed like a perfect transitional vehicle for him, but it didn’t live up to its box office potential, and since then, the closest thing he’s had to a hit film was “Connie & Carla,” which speaks volumes.
Suddenly, a return to TV started looking pretty darned good to Duchovny.
“Californication,” the Showtime sitcom that Duchovny chose as his comeback vehicle, requires the same caveat as just about every project in which he’s ever starred: your level of enjoyment will be directly proportionate to how much of his smarminess you can tolerate. And make no mistake, writer Hank Moody (Duchovny) is all about the smarm. To suggest a parallel between Hank and Bret Easton Ellis would not be inappropriate, given the way it’s implied that Hank started strong but hasn’t exactly lived up to his promise over the years. Most recently, he’s had to battle not only writer’s block but also the horrifying realization that his last book, “God Hates Us All,” has been turned into a God-awful Hollywood rom-com called “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” You get a whole lot of insight into Hank’s psyche when you find that he’s extracted revenge on the director of the film by sleeping with the guy’s wife.
Hank’s pretty much a sex machine, bouncing into a different bed on just about every episode, but the one that gets him into the most trouble is when a female fan strokes his ego and then some, only to turn out to be 16 years old. Suffice it to say that it’s an encounter that haunts Hank throughout the entire first season of “Californication” almost as much as the aforementioned writer’s block does. Although it doesn’t stop him from hooking up constantly, you may be surprised to discover that Hank still holds a torch for his ex-girlfriend, Karen (Natascha McElhone). Arguably more shocking, however, is the fact that he has a 12-year-old daughter named Becca (Madeleine Martin) with her. The triangle of Hank, Karen and Becca is as much of a key to the show as anything, and although Martin doesn’t necessarily have a lot of dialogue, the almost-teenaged Becca feels more real than any other character in the show, taking her father’s outrageous actions in stride as much as she can manage.
“Californication” isn’t without flaws. As noted, you may be tempted to wipe that goddamned smirk off Duchovny’s face sooner than later if you’re not a fan of his patented onscreen manner. There’s also an ongoing subplot about the sex life of Hank’s agent, Charlie (Evan Handler) that never really takes off; though it offers plenty of laughs, it always feels vaguely detached from the show, given that the events are only tangentially related to the goings-on in Hank’s life. Still, there’s lots of sex, drugs and four-letter words to keep you entertained, and if you accept the challenge to watch the show from start to finish, the rollercoaster of events conclude in such a manner that viewers will almost certainly feel as though they’ve been rewarded for hanging in there.
Special Features: Are you kidding me? The only bonuses here are the opportunities to watch episodes of other Showtime series. That’s it. There are no commentaries, no deleted scenes, not even the obligatory making-of featurette. Duchovny took home a Golden Globe for the series, but he couldn’t be bothered to chime in for even a single commentary for the DVD set? How disheartening.