Friday, August 24, 2007

"Don't you ever, EVER compare me to Family Guy, you hear me Kyle? Compare me to Family Guy again and so help me, I will kill you where you stand!"

I wouldn't say that people are exactly loving this show, but it does have a 72 on Metacritic, which puts it slightly ahead of Big Love and slightly behind Hotel Babylon (make of that what you will)--of course, my parents' unsanctioned F-minus-minus would probably drag that number down considerably--but the buzz seems fairly positive. Respectfully: that's fucking crazy.

Five Things That Are Seriously Wrong with Californication (2007, Showtime)...:

1. The sheer amount of sex is actually overwhelming. Seriously, do the writers have a "Duchovny nails a hot naked chick" stage direction macro on their computers? If not: might be a good time-saver. We were about 12 minutes into the first episode (and three sexual encounters...on the show, people) before Carrie turned to me and said "I can see why Duchovny agreed to do this show." The show opens with a dream sequence where Duchovny (Hank) is sexually propositioned by a nun which segues into a now-awake Hank actually having sex with the same girl (who is, for the record, not a nun). He gets chased out of her room by her (understandably) irate husband, but, not to worry, Hank stumbles upon another naked lady is his own bedroom. Later, he has a sex with a girl that he meets while trolling around his own display in Barnes & Noble. The next day, after a botched blind date (more on that in a sec), Hank instantly meets and beds another girl. I believe that's it for episode one. The second episode opens with Hank in traffic. As this isn't nearly sexy enough, the writers see fit to have the girl in the next car over come on to him. A few minutes later, Hank is in her apartment, whereupon he discovers that she's a porn star. Amazingly (for him), he decides to bail, most likely because he knows that he's evidently utterly irresistible to women. Sure enough, he gets set up on another blind date (Paula Marshall, in a remarkably rather clothing-free cameo), whom he promptly gets down with in his ex's bed...but not before fending off the under-the-table-junk-grabbing advances of the girl he met in B&N (and who happens to be sixteen). I think I'm dehydrated just from recapping that.

Now, I have nothing against sex per se (honest!), but when a Showtime program makes Vivid Video's plots look nuanced, something's amiss. Was there a prologue (possibly involving a Xander Harris inspired love potion) that I managed to miss? I'm fairly certain that some of these female characters didn't even have names...

2. Duchovny (as pretty much always) is great, but some of the other acting is atrocious. In particular, Hank's daughter is whatever is just slightly worse than useless. The actress, Madeleine Martin (who, according to, was in something called The Pillowman--which I believe was the working title for this show) could not convincingly deliver a line if her life depended on it, and instead settles on some sort of Demerol-induced automaton-like recitation of whatever was printed on the cue card just outside the camera frame. Some critics seem to have gotten around this very obvious problem by describing her as "precocious," but the key here is that the precociousness--which, last time I checked, means roughly "unusually mature for a child"--needs to be somewhat believeable. A toddler flawlessly quoting Chaucer is not an example of "precociousness"--it's fucking ridiculous. And having an alleged 12 year old character do a lengthy dinnertime soliloquy on how her parents first hooked up with all the intensity of a Econ Major forced to read from the DSM IV does not a riveting scene make. Put it this way, if they introduced a plotline in, say, episode 6 or 7, where it was revealed that the daughter was an android, I wouldn't be remotely surprised. That's...not good.

Also: she looks like Wednesday from The Addams Family. Someone get this girl a haircut!

Natascha McElhone (otherwise known as the annoying activist in The Truman Show) is good enough, I guess (she and Duchovny have at least a plausible degree of chemistry as an estranged couple), but she doesn't really bring a lot to the role. Through two episodes, 85% of her lines can be summarized as follows: shakes head and/or rolls eyes and/or drops jaw in response to something Hank has said or done, then says "seriously, I don't love you" or "you need to move on" or "Hank, are you OK?" Meh.

3. Ridiculous scenarios masked as "funny" or "surreal." For instance, after Hank and Paula Marshall get high and they are, um, in flagrante, she manages to buck him, which propels him head-first into a very expensive painting (erotic, no?). Hank, looking slightly concussed, grabs the painting and stares at it blankly for a good five seconds. At which point he throws up. Drawing inspiration, I assume, from the pie-eating scene in Stand By Me, the writers decide that Paula Marshall should also begin vomiting. At which point everyone at the dinner party--what are the odds?--walks in. Hilarity ensues. Or does it? I must confess, I did laugh a bit, but it was certainly more along the lines of "I'm just so embarrassed for everyone in this scene"/"Paula Marhall's agent is so totally fired."

There's another scene where Hank is out with his agent, his agent's wife, and a blind date they've arranged for Hank. Within a minute or so of them meeting, the blind date asks Hank to tell her what his first impressions are--I know what you're thinking: nothing could possibly go wrong with that--and he proceeds to absolutely devour her emotionally; like, he totally kills this poor girl ("you went to USC, maybe UCLA, got divorced, lost some weight, started a party planning business," etc.--in fairness, I really can't do it justice). And, yeah, it's all pretty hilarious as she, predictably, storms off, but I think the subtext of all this is that we're actually supposed to believe that he's completely right about everything he's said about her, which, aside from being totally implausible I guess also makes Hank some sort of douchebag savant. In still another scene, Hank gets punched in face (twice!) during sex and, once again, you kind of have to laugh. But it's not really because it's actually funny as much as it's so unbelievably awkward that chuckling seems like the only appropriate response.

4. It's. So. Cliched. So...he's a talented writer...who can't write at the moment...and who hates the movie studio for botching the adaptation of his masterpiece...who blew it with (what he believes to be) the love of his life...and is generally kind of shitty to everyone who isn't her (but also to her too)...and is now drowning in a pool of his own sexual retardation...and has a kid...and often behaves more immaturely than said child...and he hates L.A...and so forth. I mean, really, the day they came up with the premise for the show must have been a loooooong one for those poor manatees. Granted, it may be presented somewhat daringly (read: lots of a sex, with a liberal dose of rudeness), but this is really just several old shows and movies re-packaged together...and not particularly well at that.

As Carrie pointed out yesterday, if Hank's not going to learn anything from these random encounters--if it's simply going to be one meaningless shag after another--there really isn't much point in watching. Tim Goodman, in his excellent (and awesomely titled) blog, The Bastard Machine, refers to Duchovny's Hank as a "lovable loser." No, he's not. He's just a dick. What's worse is that Hank seems very much aware of this fact, but not at all inclined to change.

5. I actually couldn't think of a fifth one, so I'll just go with something catty like this: How come no one told me they were bringing Red Shoe Diaries back? (Zing.)

...and One Good Thing:

1. Paula Marshall! "Show Killer"! Naked! Come on!!

Sorry, that was completely unprofessional...


RT Murphy said...

Great review, it makes me want to check this show out just to see how cocked-up it is. That said, it sounds like a sort of American Psycho for the new millennium except far less poignant, much more ham-fisted, so obsessed with highlighting the shallowness of its subject that it itself becomes shallow. And Duchovny really doesn't have much to prove at this point; what's the difference when he's already associated with Red Shoe Diaries?

That said I'm totally with you on the extremely-sapient child = le suck. It pisses me the hell off and is one of the reasons I prefer the Japanese Ringu to the U.S.'s The Ring.

RT Murphy said...

Just finished watching the first episode. Wow, it's the most poorly-cast show I've seen in some time... While David is an actor I like to watch, this role really doesn't seem to be for him.

RT Murphy said...

Just for those coming late to the game... by the 5th episode, the ridiculous horn-doggedness tones down and the characters become more than mere pastiches. While it rarely goes above 'cromulent', at least the show hits its stride later rather than never.

Question Mark said...

I'm two episodes in and I think I want to kill myself. Capital T Terrible. Should I even bother sticking around to episode five to see if it picks up as Ryan claims, or should I just move on with my life?

Hal Incandenza said...

The latter.