Showtime's new series Californication is the product of an industry desperate to reinvent itself to remain relevant in the increasingly fragmented world of “entertainment”. Showtime, a sort of ugly little sister to cable-juggernaut HBO opted to move into the realms of series programming a few years back and scored two recent runaway hits in Weeds and Dexter. They also achieved modest successes with The L-Word and The Brotherhood. Californication was created in an effort to extend that streak but despite a healthy budget and the obvious talents of the cast, the show itself is a tawdry mess.

David Ducovney plays a misanthropic author who drowns his frustrations in liquor and casual sex. When he's not hammered or bedding some vacant tart, he doles out gooey Father-Knows-Best advice to his estranged daughter and tries to reconnect with (read...fuck) her mother. It's all done in that “boy, the drunk-man-whore over there really has a heart of gold, huh?” way that's meant to humanize his deadbeat ways and make him moderately likable. The show has the feel of a bunch of strung-together YouTube segments separated by Agent Mulder's home porn. Boinking a new set of perfect tits (the women attached to them never seem to matter much) occurs with commercial-like 7 to 9 minute regularity in every episode. Back in the old days they used to show commercials for Tide with bright white sheets gently flapping on the clothesline. Now we get to see why they needed cleaning so often.

The trend to R-rated cable programming that started with a few HBO heavy hitters is beginning to feel like it's been squeezed dry. Showtime's current lineup is also taking on the look of a suburban sociopath convention with serial killers, drug runners, philanderers and evil-politico's standing in for the good guys. At the risk of over-analyzing a few escapist television shows, maybe this trend is indicative of something else though. I think we need to come up with a new word that reflects America, circa 2008. Post-Modern doesn't work and Post-911 is too incident specific but the U.S. has morphed into something that I'm guessing will become more evident in future retrospect. In its oddly commercial way, television has always offered up a distorted fun-house/hall-of-mirrors reflection of American society and I think that Showtime has, perhaps even accidentally, plugged into its latest incarnation rather accurately.

It's Robin Hood. Think about it... name a show that doesn't pivot in some way on the actions of an anti-hero. In varying degrees shows like 24, The Shield, Dexter, Weeds, The Family Guy, Prison Break , House, The Office, Curb, Desperate Housewives, etc. are not only about the rejection of the status quo, they often project the pleasures of being released from the moral and ethical bounds of society – free to screw, kill, torture, belittle, and laugh at everyone else. This new Robin Hood persona isn't like the old one. Where the Errol Flynn version robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, this new incarnation becomes the rich and gives it to the poor. They both thumb their noses at the rules but for altogether different reasons. Having watched countless Prince Johns get filthy rich shafting everything that moves, the poor now just want to join the party instead of rectifying the underlaying problems. As a result, shows like Californication, while not necessarily explicitly about fucking everything that moves and never having to face the consequences of those choices, is hardly pointing out the pitfalls either. This Robin Hood doesn't do anything of value. The show isn't badly written, but rather sadly true, at least in its accidental reflection of a society mired in self-indulgence and mindless twaddle. Here's a guy that drives around in a Porche, beds luscious babes, and barfs on art. Wow.... what a lucky bastard.

As usual, I've probably meandered too far from writing a simple review about a a simple series but I can't help but see these programs as examples of society on the cusp of flying up its own ass. I think the term I keep searching for to describe this dreary period is either post-communal or pre-anarchy, but I'm open to suggestions.


the coelacanth said...

incidentally, i also watched this one over the weekend. i had similar thoughts to yours, but didn't even think of it as shallow - i think it's more an attempt to skewer the exact society it shows than merely entertain. but that it can be read both ways is indicative of its success (for me anyway). i agree that the "father-knows-best" stuff is gag-worthy, and the moral philosophizing of duchovny's character borders at times on embarrassing, but the writing is witty and smart, and the show, you must admit, is...well...titillating.
i think if they had have left out duchovny's voice-over blog entries and rollins show appearances, the show may not have been as obviously satiric, but it would have benefited from the subtlety.
also, as with most series, i guess - i thought this one started out really strong, with the first few episodes being hilarious and mildly thought-provoking, but it begins to falter around the LOL episode and never truly regains its footing. i also like how most episodes start with a sort of male-fantasy parody (intentional?) of the six feet under intros where someone dies.
basically, i'm just happy to have some new j-o material....

La Sporgenza said...

Coalminer - While I agree with you on the one hand, my other one is "busy working the remote", as they say. The problem I had with the show was this; If it's a satire, then commit and make it a satire. It just started turning into the very thing I thought it was lampooning. I felt the same way about the Funny Games remake. Hanake, while attempting to deconstruct the torture porn genre, makes.... you guessed it, a torture porn. More reconstruction than deconstruction. What's that all about?

sookie said...

This type of character is nothing new to our times. Hank Moody, I'm quite certain, is based on the life of writer Bret Easton Ellis whose books reveled in rich ennui so pervasive in LA. Though no one does seem ever truly happy, sadly, I'd rather follow these characters than Cosby and kids.