Spent the last two weeks getting caught up on the David Duchovny vehicle Californication.
Other than the story of a sardonic, haggered, seen-better-days writer now maddeningly single with a precocious daughter, I really don’t see what it has to do with me.
I like the show. Really. Some of the lines made me laugh aloud, which is rare for any show. And of course I’m the sucker for the Flawed Hero. Don’t we all see ourselves in the stories we choose?
Here are the basics. Duchovny is Hank Moody, once considerered an up-and-coming novelist (the backstory is that he once drew the attention of Bret Easton Ellis. Make of that what you will) sold out and moved to Hollywood once his book “God Hates Us All” is turned into a movie renamed “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and starring “Tom and Katie.” (Can’t help but think edgy novelist Rick Moody was the inspiration — for the name at least.)
Moody does the full LA and ends up an arrogant prick. So much so that his longtime girlfriend, and the mother of his daughter, takes up with another man and leaves him stone cold. He still loves her, of course, and much of the series observes his half-hearted attempts to woo her, even as she prepares to marry the ever-stiff Bill.
Most of the time, Hank medicates himself with whiskey and women and much of the show’s titillation comes from the sex scenes and the locker room talk. But you don’t have to watch the series long to realize that the creators are much more interested in the question of whether rehabilitation is truly possible. Whether once you lie down with dogs (so to speak, don’t come after me, McCain campaign), can you ever pull yourself up and be normal, functioning member of society? Can you be a good father? It’s like what they always say about the homeless. Once they’re out on the street for too long, you can’t pull them back.
It’s a given that Hank is alternately self-righteous and self-loathing. Here’s some dialogue from an interview of Moody on a radio show, that illustrates:
Henry Rollins: What’s your latest obsession?
Hank Moody: Just the fact that people seem to be getting dumber and dumber. You know, I mean we have all this amazing technology and yet computers have turned into basically four figure wank machines. The internet was supposed to set us free, democratize us, but all it’s really given us is Howard Dean’s aborted candidacy and 24 hour a day access to kiddie porn. People…they don’t write anymore – they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me it’s just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King’s English.
Henry Rollins: Yet you’re part of the problem, I mean you’re out there blogging with the best of them.
Hank Moody: Hence my self-loathing.
But here’s my problem with Californication. It’s a fantasy. And not in the idea that a broken-down middle-aged guy can get laid in serial fashion. The fantasy comes on the other end, with his relationship with his ex, Karen. She’s the show’s angelic figure, the alabaster goddess. She’ll forgive Hank for anything, for catching him in bed, for his failures considering his daughter, for his moral equivalency. And she’ll still be the one there when he needs her, she’ll open her door, or give him a plane ticket so that he can attend his father’s funeral.
While it would be easy to dismiss the show as misogynistic, it’s clear throughout that Karen is the adult, the strong one, and Hank is the infant, still learning his way through the world.
That’s why the end of the first season, in that regard, is a cheat. (I won’t reveal the exact plot detail.) And it cheapens everything that came before it. Because the moral of the show is (at least I think it is), that you can’t have it both ways. (Except in bed.)
In that respect, Californication is the most rueful of male fantasies. It’s not about scoring, it’s about forgiveness– in spite of all our faults and missteps. And for many, many men, that’s probably the most elusive quality of all.