The Wolf of Netflix: Californication


First five seasons on Netflix

What in the name of bloody hellfire has happened to David Duchovny? He actually, genuinely looks like a sloth, or some kind of ageing lion who’s recently lost a fight.

Of course, just about every celebrity under the sun seems to have been compared to a sloth on the internet over the past year, it’s become one of those deeply absurd web trends, like when turban jokes were big. Christ do you remember when turban jokes were big? God those were bleak days for mankind.

Look, I’m getting off topic, which is incredible because I’d barely gotten on topic in the first place. The point is that David Duchovny legitimately looks a bit bizarre in Californication, and I can’t decide if it’s part of his character or if that’s just how he looks now.

I guess I sort of get it, he’s supposed to be a kind of ersatz Charles Bukowski, a man who looked moderately peaky at the best of times and like a terminally ill homeless man at the worst.

OK! OK! Maybe I’m being a tad harsh on poor old David. I suppose he could be considered kind of ruggedly, shabbily handsome in an odd way, I just couldn’t really comment.

Californication then is a show about Hank Moody, (David Duchovny) a formerly successful writer who, suffering from a five year case of writer’s block, has descended into a life of drunken debauchery. It follows his attempts to restart his writing career and win back his former long term girlfriend and the mother of his child, who is engaged to another man at the show’s outset.

Now, the first question worth asking is not, do I buy David Duchovny as an alcoholic, down on his luck author? Certainly, I would argue he’s absolutely perfect for the part. But rather, do I buy David Duchovny as being totally, helplessly irresistible to all the women under the sun? To which the answer is, do I heck.

By the way, when I say that, I really do mean it. Throughout the course of the opening few episodes, countless droves of women – including his ex-girlfriend’s new fiancé’s sixteen year old daughter – throw themselves at Hank with reckless abandon. He barely even has to open his sardonic, smart alec trap before they start earnestly tearing his clothes off.

To exemplify this, in the first episode alone you get to have a fair old gawp at precisely four sets of bare breasts. And I know this, because I fucking counted. Now four is a lot, no two ways about it; I don’t even think True Blood managed to get four pairs of exposed mammaries into the pilot episode, and this one was only 40 minutes long.

In my last review I remarked on how Lost Girl was a show that managed to be comfortable with its sexuality without it seeming forced or puerile, and how that was to its eternal credit. Californication is the exact opposite of that, an example of what happens when you step over that invisible line between having a raunchy, devil-may-care edge to your show and the preposterous land of risible, softcore silliness.

Three, you know, three maybe you can get away with. I’m no Mary Whitehouse; it’s all fine by me, as long as it seems to fit and feels natural within the context of the show. But not even something like Californication – which is very clearly targeted at men – can get away with four sets of boobs in 40 minutes without looking like they’re actually trying to fit them in, and when it starts to appear like you’re deliberately finding excuses to depict copious amounts of nudity you begin to look rather cynical, and really, nudity for nudities sake isn’t television at all, it’s backdoor pornography. Which I accept is not an ideal turn of phrase, before you all start sniggering. Yes, you, don’t think I can’t see you at the back.

See this is ultimately what you get when you let writers write about being a writer. Californication is very clearly the product of the collective fantasies of the show’s creator and writing staff. Deep down, as I know all too well, every writer kind of wants to be a disheveled, maverick drunk forever dogged by their personal demons, all the best ones are; and funnily enough, they always seem to be of the impression that said writer would get exactly the same rate of tail, with the same ease that Hank does in the show (Cali-fornication, d’ya geddit?). To a degree, they may be right, but four pairs of pilot norks! C’mon lads, cool it off a little.

So Californication is lewd, it’s crude, frankly it’s downright crass, we’ve established all that. But that’s more or less my only complaint. It’s also sharp, clever, and riotously, devilishly funny. It’s bloke humour for sure, but it’s genuinely witty bloke humour, which is surprisingly not a total oxymoron. Hank’s dialogue is often truly inspired, and very quotable, with his brand of drunken, nihilistic philosophy having seemingly spawned hundreds of internet memes. Occasionally it even functions as a solid, engaging drama as well, which, given what I’ve already told you, I’m sure you’ll agree is absolutely incredible.

Hank is a well written, well developed character who really carries the show. His jokes are good, he’s interesting, fun to watch, and Duchovny puts in a fantastic performance. So just on that basis, you can’t totally savage Californication for its occasional, ribald childishness. It’s ultimately a show about one man, and he’s a man that you enjoy watching. What else can you ask for? Well, not trying to make us buy that the bloke who played Agent Mulder has mastered some form of baffling sexual hoodoo which surpasses the skills of any known man or beast, obviously, but other than that…