'Californication' Review

by Paul William Tenny

californication.jpgI envy people that have press connections that enable them to preview new TV series before the rest of us get to see them. Back when people like that were crapping Prison Break, I thought "hey cool, they just saved me from having to track another dead-ender." Well, since I have a HTPC at my disposal, I decided it was worth checking out some early morning when there was nothing else to watch, so I recorded and watched the first few episodes. The critics were dead wrong, Prison Break was hugely popular and very well produced. I loved the first season and it'll take its place on my entertainment center DVD collection soon enough, although I can't say the same for the sophomore season.

With that in mind, I didn't put too much stock into early reviews of HBO's John from Cincinnati, which turned out to be accurate as that show won't be seeing a second chance at life. So what to think of the early reviews for David Duchovny's new show on Showtime, Californication? Probably not worth very much, but you never know. I don't get Showtime so I won't be able to see how it plays out, even though I'm a moderate Duchovny fan since the X-Files, he hasn't been on the radar since. Neither has Gillian Anderson for that matter.
I guess once you get filthy rich on a once-in-five-years hit TV show, you can just stop working for a living.

So while Hanks pines for Karen, he finds solace, as she puts it, by "sticking your dick in anything that moves trying to get back at me." There are certainly worse ways to pass the time, and this form of revenge allows for liberal glimpses of bared breasts (at least a half-dozen in the pilot, which isn't a bad breast-per-minute ratio), but not much in the way of emotional connection, either with Hank or anybody else.

As written by Tom Kapinos and directed by Stephen Hopkins, "Californication" (a pretty stupid title, really) has trouble delineating where the viewer's sympathies are supposed to reside. Hank doesn't need to be likable any more than Tony Soprano did, but watching him stagger through the premiere -- drinking too much, rudely insulting a fix-up by his agent (Evan Handler) and bedding women who are all inappropriate in various ways -- makes it increasingly difficult to care about his fate.

I've read about problems like this and how important it is to avoid them in screenwriting books dozens of times, and they really drill it into you because it's the surest way towards failure: your main character must be likable, even if he kills kittens and nuns, he has to have at least some  likable qualities. Otherwise nothing that happens as the main thrust of the story unfolds will matter to the people watching.

If they don't care about the main character, it's more like an exercise in watching your neighbors live their boring, regular lives instead of a movie or a television show with engaging and colorful characters in unique situations doing things you yourself would never do. If you make your guy or gal so contemptible that the audience would get more of a kick from seeing them die than succeeding at their goals, then you've got a page-one rewrite problem and a lot of work to do.

If this review is accurate, then this show has that problem. They may be stretching things, or the reviewer overly pessimistic. Maybe Duchovny's character redeems himself in the second episode or the arc of redemption doesn't start for a while.

Maybe not, and in that case, where's the fun and entertainment in watching a loser be an asshole to everyone? Pardon the language on my part, but you can't say it any other way. If I wanted to see that, I'd walk outside. Cinema and TV is where you go to see someone saved, or saving others. You get to watch the journey from thoughtless jerk to reluctant hero, and you get that everywhere, not just in epic battle films.

Every story to one degree or another is about redemption, or so I've been taught. Without it, you might as well pack up the bags and go home.


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