Picture the scene: a disheveled man in his late thirties exits his equally scruffy looking Porsche convertible and enters a church. After nonchalantly putting out his cigarette in holy water, he walks up to the altar and addresses the statue of Christ. “Ok big guy, it’s just you and me” he intones with a mischievous glint in his eye. A young nun appears and asks the man if she can help. The man, who appears to be a writer, says he is experiencing a crisis of faith and is seeking guidance. The young nun responds that usually a bunch of hail Marys would help, but she doubts that they will get the job done in this case. So she offers to perform oral sex on him instead. Welcome to the world of Hank Moody.
David Duchovny as sex-craving novelist Hank Moody.
Said scene may turn out to be a dream sequence, but in terms of setting the tone for what’s to come, it certainly does the trick. Californication follows the decadent life of Bukowskian novelist Hank Moody, a sex addict who uses his gift for prose to charm the ladies with little effort. He also has an estranged partner, Karen, with whom he shares custody of their pre-pubescent Goth Punk daughter, Becca. Whilst having a strong bond with Becca, Hank openly wishes to resume his relationship with Karen, who is engaged to a stuck-up magazine editor. Unfortunately, Hank’s shambolic lifestyle is exactly what keeps him from rebuilding his family.
On first approach it would be tempting to compare Tom Kapinos’ show to a male Sex & the City, but truth be told it is more akin to a grown-up OC. While in the latter virtually every character was either a thug or a spoilt rich kid and a fist fight or love triangle was never far away, in Californication the men are foul-mouthed sleazy pricks, the women are closet nymphomaniacs and both sexes consume class A drugs and enjoy rampant casual intercourse on an unapologetically frequent basis. Both shows are about extremities, which are played out to ludicrously entertaining effect; the fact that they also happen to be set in breezy SoCal only strengthens the similarities.
Of course, there is always the risk that a TV series with this much gratuitous nudity (Hank’s sexual partners tend to disrobe within minutes of appearing on-screen) and graphic sex borders on being shallow, never mind profane or even pornographic. Luckily, the show’s creators have an ace up their sleeve in the form of David Duchovny. Handsome, rugged and with a cigarette constantly hanging from his lower lip, Hank is the living embodiment of the alpha male fantasy, the kind of guy all men secretly want to look like. Furthermore, being a talented wordsmith allows him to come up with the kind of quips and comebacks it would take us common folk a good ten minutes to concoct. It’s a role Duchovny pulls off with boyish charm, well-timed humour and a pinch of raw sexual magnetism.
However, the writers have made the wise decision to mold Hank into something of a gallant postmodern feminist (for instance, in one episode he chastises a total stranger for being verbally abusive to his girlfriend), which ensures he is never the insufferable lothario he could’ve so easily been. And while Moody is usually seen enjoying the company of the many women he frequents, one of the main plotlines sees him deal with the ramifications of inadvertently sleeping with an underage girl.
Despite its repetitive formula of sex, booze and rock’n’roll spirit, Californication has somehow managed to rack up six seasons so far, with a seventh already confirmed in the works. Over the years Hank has been a novelist, a screenwriter, a college professor and more recently was sent to rehab, which makes you think the writers have been struggling to know what to do with him. The truth is the final episode of this first season feels like a series finale in itself, thus making the need to return for more of Hank’s shenanigans a bit pointless. The best way to enjoy Californication is to treat the first seasons as a standalone mini-series and embrace the wild debauchery – after all, it’s not every day you see Fox Mulder get fellated by a nun.