Is Californication the Best R-Rated TV Series?
This dramedy shows the bawdy side of life in California
The TV series Californication shows life in California as it really is. Well, maybe not how it really is, but probably how many people would like to think it is, particularly in the reputed land of decadence, Hollywood Babylon, where at least some hedonistic folks behave as if every day were their last on planet earth.
The series can be seen on the premium cable TV channel, Showtime. Beginning production in 2007, Californication - not to be confused with the album of the same title by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – is adult TV fare charged with sex, drugs and rock and roll.
In general, critics have lauded the show, and its list of awards is long, having garnered Golden Globe and Emmy awards, among others. But is the show really that good or just some simulated-sex-laden romp hyped to infinity by Showtime?
Please keep reading and find out!
What’s the series about?
Californication was created by producer and screenwriter Tom Kapinos, who, in years past, was the executive producer of the TV’s Dawson’s Creek. The star of the show is Hank Moody, a writer played by David Duchovny. Moody, having lived in New York City for many years, where he wrote three best-selling novels, moves to Los Angeles hoping to conquer his writer’s block and perhaps take advantage of Hollywood’s lucrative film industry.
Living in L.A. is Moody’s longtime girlfriend, architect Karen van der Beek, played by Natascha McElhone. Hank and Karen never married, yet parented a young girl named Becca, played by Madeleine Martin. And Hank Moody’s agent and best friend is Charlie Runkle, played by Evan Handler. Charlie’s wife and then ex-wife is Marcy, portrayed by Pamela Adlon.
Throughout the series Hank tries to rekindle a romance with Karen, though he never succeeds – for long, anyway. Becca, who usually lives with her mother, is a precocious Satan-worshipper, who puts up with mom and dad’s nearly constant arguments and occasional sexual encounters and, because of this perhaps, she often seems more mature than her parents.
Watching the series, we wonder if Hank and Karen will ever get married, yet we know the marriage can’t possibly work unless Hank proves he can remain faithful to Karen and also becomes a generally responsible, law-abiding person.
Hank Moody, the libertine
The series revolves around the exploits of Hank Moody, the likeable rake, who never seems to run out of beautiful, promiscuous women, many of whom pick him up rather than the other way around. Often Dressed raffishly and quick with the sexual bon mot, Hank seems already for sexual action at any moment.
Hank likes to party too. He imbibes alcohol almost constantly and smokes cigarettes whenever and wherever he pleases, including the grocery store. He’s also not above stealing pills from women’s purses. Nose candy is something he also tries from time to time, depending on circumstances.
Nevertheless, Hank does have redeeming characteristics. He handles his daughter Becca with courtesy and sensitivity and rarely patronizes her. In fact, Hank treats all women with respect and is quick to come to their defense when they’ve been insulted and will also put up his dukes if any woman needs to fend off a creep. Yes, Hank Moody is downright chivalrous.
But Hank would have a better chance of being responsible person if he didn’t hang out with hedonistic folks who never seem to stop partying or fornicating. Of course this interplay provides the fun in the show. You never know what unusual, often hilarious circumstances into which Hank may stumble.
Other characters like Hank Moody
Movies, television and literature have offered many Hank Moody-like characters over the years and centuries. Actor Errol Flynn played many such characters in American movies and lived a similar personal life as well. Critics often compare Hank Moody to Charles Bukowski, another L.A. writer who became known as the Dirty Old Man. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson could bear some resemblance to the character as well, though Thompson was much more politically minded. And, from classic literature, Giacomo Casanova comes to mind. (Could Hank end up like Casanova - laughed at by younger women - if he plays the roué for too long?)
Californication and Rock and Roll
The series offers numerous references to rock and roll. The music often blares from the score and is featured on the season-one soundtrack entitled, Temptation: Music from the Showtime Series Californication. Moreover, during the second season, Hank has an argument with record producer Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie) and Ashby, in order to smooth things over, gives Hank a left-handed guitar once owned by deceased rock legend Kurt Cobain. And Becca, who often plays the video game Guitar Hero, eventually learns to play guitar and joins a rock band. Also, gothic rocker Marilyn Manson parties with the gang in an episode of season six.
Who invented the name Californication?
In 1999, the rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers released an album titled Californication. And then in 2007, when Californication the TV series premiered, the band initiated a lawsuit, claiming the producers of the show had ripped them off. However, in the United States, titles are not copyright protected, but trademarks can be. But the band never issued a trademark for the name.
Defenders of the TV show point out that way back in 1972 the word appeared in a Time magazine article entitled “The Great Wild Californicated West.” Also, the show’s producer Tom Kapinos claims his inspiration for show’s title was a bumper sticker in the 1970s, which read: “Don’t Californicate Oregon.” Lastly, in 1992 the Canadian rock band the Rheostatics, released an album on which the words to a song read: “Californication, spooning in the dry sand.”
As long as one likes Hank Moody, the leading character, whose smartalecky manner could be off-putting, you could become addicted to the series. Its nudity, foul language and explicit sexual situations could offend as well. But, if that titillating stuff is your cup of tea, you’ll almost certainly like this show, whose standard of excellence catapults it to the status of one of those guilty pleasures we all seem to have.
Yes, indeed, Californication may be the best R-Rated TV series.
(By the way, since the series is presented on cable TV, it hasn’t been subject to the same rating system as movies. But if it were a movie, its rating would probably be either R or NC-17).
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© 2012 Kelley Marks