I’ve been thinking a bit about Californication. I’m half way through the fourth season – I’ve paused after Episode 6 to decide whether to continue or not. The signature move of the show is the fairly explicit sex. Basically no episode goes by without seeing at least one completely naked woman, and all but full-frontal nudity for a man. This is positions the show on the “adult” side of the watershed.
Something that has become pretty apparent over the tenure of the show is that any new female character that appears will inevitably end up naked and screwing Hank Moody (Fox Mulder). It has a pornographic inevitability. Like pornography, these scenes are perhaps enjoyable on some level for attractive female flesh, while on the other and dominant hand, being somewhat distant and cold. They are usually playful compared to the virtual brutality of pornography, but they don’t bear much resemblance to any recognizable human intimacy either. I suppose that given the show’s name Californication this is pretty much as advertised.
It is tempting read women as disposable objects to Hank, and hence have a misogynist view of the show. However, I think this is going too far – certainly Hank is promiscuous, but so are his paramours, on the whole. And they generally cope better and are more in control of themselves and their situation than Hank is: he seems almost totally powerless to make or execute good decisions, especially about sex. Moreover, I think that for most of the women he encounters, the show tries its best to demonstrate their capability and empowerment – with Hank being essentially an addict, unable to control himself.
Interspersed with the sex and low-comedy are sometimes scenes that are exquisitely written. There are two kinds of scenes which appear to offer to look beyond this juvenile/pornographic veil at real human stories.
The first are the few moments where Hank or some other character offers some real insight into their lives and personalities, demonstrates some real understanding of the situation around them. Generally episodes are built around one or so of these scenes, where the writing is moving, the acting is dead-on, and you can start to believe that there is more to the show than a quest for orchestrating some fucking. And hand-in-glove with these scenes are those moments when the characters talk openly about sex, a private and intimate moment revealed with apparent honesty.
Yet, given the context even of some of this very powerful writing, its validity is questionable – isn’t this merely a justification, a veneer to make you feel better about watching pr0n?
I find the frankness of the show engaging. The idea that people can talk about sex the way they talk about it is a foreign but appealing concept. Despite the casts’ promiscuity, sex doesn’t quite cross over into being casual – there are consequences for its use and misuse; though consequences rooted, ultimately, in a comedy rather than tragedy.
So I am undecided about whether to watch the second half of the season. It has moved progressively down in my opinion, from being compelling viewing in the first season, to intriguing in the second, to somewhat formulaic but entertaining… into what is now a semi-guilty semi-pleasure.