Thursday, August 16, 2007

Californication Review -- 1x01, "Pilot"

"I'm having what you might call a crisis of faith. I mean, put it simply, I can't write, which really kind of sucks because I'm supposed to be a writer..."

Californication Official Site

In the pilot of Showtime's new David Duchovny vehicle, whose subject matter is probably obvious, we're introduced to Hank via a time-honored (read: cliched) tradition, the Freudian dream. We find out that he is a writer, struggling to put words to paper, drunk more often than sober, and still in love with his ex and the father of his 12-year-old daughter. The ex, Karen (played by Natascha McElhone), is now engaged. Oh, and Hank? Enjoys Teh Sex.

And any audience member who doesn't will probably find herself pretty damn bored during this pilot, whose sex scenes I lost count of halfway through. And I want to note that those expecting "edgy" sex might want to look elsewhere as well. There's nothing shocking here.

The thing is, I found myself on Google afterwards trying to figure out what, exactly, this show was. I'd been under the impression that it was a sitcom, but... and maybe I'm just used to having laugh tracks to tell me what's funny... there weren't that many, what's the word, funny parts. But Hank has his moments of snark and sarcasm, enough to make him seem both clever and unpleasant.

Genre-bending aside, though, I thought Californication was pretty damn cool. Hank is a huge asshole (a scene where he dresses down a blind date is almost unwatchable in its cruelty), the show makes no bones about that, and it's pretty hard to like him. Still, it's also hard to stop watching, because trainwrecks are interesting. McElhone's Karen is suitably mature and conflicted to complement his immaturity and pig-headedness.

The show will have to strike a balance, I think, between maintaining the essence of Hank's character (as noted above, horniness and assholery) and making him someone we can root for. Making the punishment worse than the crime is a good way to make you sympathize with a character, and the bleakness and hopelessness of Hank's personal life might just outweigh his personal failings. I'm happy to watch a show, though, where I don't really root for the character. It's true to life, or at least to a certain vision of life; far truer than the television convention of trying to justify everyone all the time. Perhaps some Nielsen families will feel the same.

I'm having trouble figuring out whether I recommend this show. It's certainly not what I thought it would be, not as smart or funny or innovative, but a strong lead character is a big asset, and Hank is that. I think if every episode is destined to be like this one -- a procession of sex and booze and kind-of-obvious emotional revelations about Hank -- it's not going to be worth watching, but the fact that this is a mini-series means it might make real progress with character development after this. And, I'll admit it, I never thought so before but David Duchovny is pretty great.

In Summary: Jury's out!

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