Californication, Season 3
Since the premiere of the provocative Showtime series Californication over three years ago, actor David Duchovny has poured his blood, sweat, tears (and let’s pray that’s all) into his controversial role as the sexually-liberated, if not a bit depraved, Hank Moody – a smoking, boozing caricature of a tortured novelist a la Charles Bukowski. Duchovny not only stars in this half-hour comedy by creator Tom Kapinos (one of the Dawson’s Creek producers back in the day), but has also written and produced several episodes, generously bestowing upon the world the two primary things he believes it needs more of: naked ladies and himself. One really must admit that he’s quite adept at showcasing these two particular features, even if the series has been known to fall short in other areas. Every show has a shelf life, and Californication, the third season of which is now available on DVD, may be nearing the end of its creative life span.
Whatever originality and clever quips the dashing cast of Californication brought to its promising first season are things of the past, proving they were not only short-lived, but also highly susceptible to overuse. The show should have never aspired to be more than a flash in the pan, and if it had resisted overstepping its bounds, it would have simply gone down in history as another Showtime “one season wonder,” and we could have left it at that.
Hank Moody, Duchovny’s once-compelling character, has devolved from an endearing, unpredictable eccentric to a bizarre, semi-dangerous psychotic. Once upon a time he called people out on their phony airs around a casual dinner table. Now he’s the kind of man who whistles the theme to Popeye while a college administrator tells him he’s single-handedly responsible for the suicide attempt of one of his students. Far from unpredictable, Moody is now merely a buffoon who is absolutely guaranteed to make social situations unpleasant for his friends and loved ones. Gorgeous women still sleep with him because … well, he looks just like David Duchovny, but the idea that any sane female person would actually find his Season 3 antics charming is not only highly unrealistic, but (I have to say it) glaringly misogynistic.
Moody’s perverted ensemble cast is just as crude and shallow as he is. They’re all back and “better” than ever, reciting dialogue that sounds like it’s based on a 14-year-old boy’s fantasy of what the world should be. Every joke that escapes their scandalous lips has something to do with the filthier side of sex, and I can’t often tell if they’re trying to be shocking or sexy, which is a decent indication that they’re not being either. There are also some new faces in the lineup, including Kathleen Turner and Rick Springfield, who have evidently accepted the fact that this is where their careers have brought them.
This Season 3 disc set also has a “Special Features” section that is almost as disappointing as the episodes themselves. The four-minute blooper reel pretty much consists of the actors botching a line here and there before cursing a blue streak — an artistic device that is already ample in the show. Beyond that, the “Extras” disc affords us a 16-slide “Photo Gallery” of still shots from filming, a “Biography” section featuring written histories of the main cast members and guest stars, two full episodes from the final season of Showtime’s The Tudors, a chance to download episodes of the upcoming programs The United States of Tara and Episodes, and instructions on how to enter a sweepstakes for a trip to a California resort so that you too can live the life that Hank Moody laps up, for a week or two. Be advised that many of these “Special Features” require an internet connection, so you won’t be able to access them on a basic DVD player.
All this being considered, I recognize that there are still a few demographics out there, some of which are larger than others, that will find this Season 3 Disc Set indispensable to their home theater collection. They include, in no particular order: people who already own Seasons 1 and 2 of Californication on DVD and suffer from a strain of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that causes extreme anxiety if a collected series goes incomplete; individuals who are teaching or enrolled in courses entitled Cultural Depictions of Womanizing in Contemporary American Media or Writing Dialogue: What Not to Do; twenty-something women whose nostalgic obsession with The X-Files compel them to purchase anything Duchovny puts his name on, hoping it will contain some kind of hidden reference to Scully; and finally, people who like to see naked ladies. I’m willing to place a bet on which group is responsible for the largest percentage of sales. But I’m unwilling to confuse weak writing with bad marketing. Californication at least knows to play to its strengths. David Duchovny will always be charming and young women will always have breasts, and Californication is counting on it.