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All photos © Showtime
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
f you pay any attention at all to celebrity gossip, then you know that David Duchovny checked himself into a facility to be treated for sex addiction last year. This happened right before the second season of “Californication” premiered on Showtime. Normally I wouldn’t mention such trivia in a DVD review, but given the promiscuous manner in which his character, Hank Moody, behaves in this series, it’s the obvious elephant in the room. Further, his most famous character, Fox Mulder (of "The X-Files"), had a fascination with pornography. Given these character stats, it’s now become impossible to entirely separate the dancer from the dance.
It’s not that one should judge any of the work that’s come before Duchovny’s real life problems, but what are we to expect from Hank in Season Three? If the character continues to go down the roads he’s previously traveled, it’s difficult to understand Duchovny as an actor, and any declarations he might make akin to “He’s just a guy I play on a TV show” are unlikely to alleviate the conundrum. Since he must have shot most – if not all of – Season Two before his problems were made public, the issue has less bearing on what’s presented here, but there’s no denying that the further you get sucked into the universe of “Californication,” you can’t help but wonder what the future will bring, what the whole thing’s really about, and whether or not Duchovny chose the role as an excuse to work through/explore personal issues.
I used to say that “Nip/Tuck” was the most immoral show on TV, and for reasons not worth going into here, it still is. “Californication” gives it a serious run for the title, though; the difference probably lies in the fact that “Californication” isn’t immoral as much as it’s hedonistic – and there is a difference. Unlike “Nip/Tuck,” these characters have a sort of moral code (warped though it is). Hank Moody gets laid by a new girl, or has some kind of sexual encounter or proposition, in most episodes of the season (or at least it feels that way), but there are typically conditions involved. To say that “Californication” emphasizes sex and drugs is an understatement. The show is about sex and drugs. It’s about relationships as well, but the visceral presentation of sex and drugs almost always wins out. And just to complete the cliché, this season is also about rock ‘n’ roll.
Writer Hank finds himself entangled in the life of burned out rock icon Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie, possibly one of the hardest working actors today), who wants him to pen his biography. The arrangement isn’t without complications, and it comes to a head when Lew meets Hank’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and mother of his child, Karen (Natasha McElhone), around the same time Hank meets Lew’s “one that got away,” Janie (Mädchen Amick). It isn’t quite wife-swapping, but it’s a “Californication” version of it, given that Hank declares that the idea of an open relationship goes against everything he believes in. But you gotta understand that it’d be damn near impossible for me to try to turn you away from any show that features Mädchen Amick in a bikini. I mean, that’s just TV history as far as I’m concerned, and it’s a shame I can’t write a review that consists of nothing more than this paragraph. Mädchen’s in a bikini. What more do you need to know, other than the unrated cut of “Dream Lover” isn’t coming to a theatre near you anytime soon?
The secondary season arc involves Hank’s agent, Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler), who’s lost his job and is in turn dealing with his wife Marcie’s (Pamela Adlon) coke addiction, and his escalating attraction to porn starlet Daisy (Carla Gallo). This eventually leads to a hilarious scene in which Daisy is starring in a porn parody flick called “Vaginatown.” When the lead actor suffers from coke dick, Charlie must literally rise to the occasion and be the stunt cock for the money shot, all while Gallo moans, “Forget it Jake, it’s Vaginatown.” The series isn’t without its intricacies, but no matter what it would like to convey on some deeper level, it’s really all about sex and drugs, because that’s what will stick in your head when it’s over. It can’t possibly resonate for the average viewer on any deeper level, because very few of us live these types of lives. That doesn’t change the reality that many of us dream of at least trying. If you don’t, then this show isn’t for you.
Oh, sure, “Californication” delivers a few episodes of vague poignancy towards the end of the season, but nothing TV-shattering, and nothing that many a series doesn’t manage to tackle within the first couple episodes of the season premiere. (Alright, I’ll give it up to Callum Keith Rennie’s final scene of the season, which I honestly didn’t see coming.) But hey, that’s just the kind of show this is, and it’s difficult to imagine it striving for much more. It continues to be relatively light, fluffy fare, and as long as you don’t expect much more than sex and drugs, you’re liable to have a good time with the second season of the series. One tip, though: when watching this set, don’t read the episode recaps on the DVD menus; they give nearly every plot point of each episode away.
Special Features: There’s a commentary track with Pamela Adlon on the episode “Coke Dick & The First Kick.” Nothing special, yet it’s a hell of a lot of fun to just listen to Adlon ramble, as she’s a very funny lady. Further, a featurette entitled “Marcy’s Waxing Salon” shows Adlon involved in some real life waxing, and it’s amazing what this lady is game for. Indeed, it’s weird watching and hearing her in these extras, as well as on the show, as I kept thinking about Bobby Hill, and how he would react to seeing the woman who does his voice engaged in all this depravity. There’s also a series of interviews with all five of the series’ leads, and finally, if you insert one of the discs into your computer, you can stream a couple episodes each of “The United States of Tara” and “The Tudors.”