Californicated: Why am I seduced by these television assholes?
Showtime’s new primetime comedy drama Californication begins on Channel Five today, but why should you watch another jerk screwing his way around the world and cracking wise on the whole deal? Why are we charmed by assholes? More importantly, right now anyway, why am I charmed by these assholes?
‘Californication’; the standard way now to describe Hollywood’s ability to allure, fuck and run by ordinary, starstruck souls looking for the American dream. If anything, you know some of the themes that will be explored in the show before it’s even begun. Here will be yet another look at the skewed American dream of stardom and fame, seeking out destiny in La La Land. From the trailers too, you can know to expect another treatise from cable television on the plight of the successful white asshole. Are we expected to constantly sympathise with people who, from even our own somewhat elevated standpoint, have no problem except for wanting to have problems. Tell Me You Love Me is a prime example in the schedules of the US, a show begging you to pass your sympathy on to wealthy folk who, in this case, just can’t get quite achieve perfection.
So why is it then that I’ve watched every episode of Californication? Why do I enjoy this show if its fundamental premise doesn’t make sense to me? Why, for that matter, do I constantly enjoy programmes on American television that feature despicable people. Denis Leary’s alcoholic, cock-led firefighter in Rescue Me, McNulty in The Wire and of course, the king of sympathetic assholes, Tony Soprano?
Hank Moody, the central character of Californication played by David Duchovny, is as bigger asshole as any of these folk. He’s a writer of supposedly a very misanthropic, vicious book on relationships and romance which is turned into a Hollywood-hug fest which he predictably hates. The love of his life, Natasha McElhone, leaves him after she cheats on him (although its impossible to hate her for it in the show) and he spends his time somewhat drunk, chasing after her while fucking his way through most of LA’s looser set. I say fucking too because the first episode sees him screw four women, only one of whom turns up again in any real capacity.
So what’s good about him immediately? Well, he is funny. The show has a strong vein of wit running through it in the confrontations between characters and Duchovny has an easy charm that warms you to him. He’s a good father too, treating his overly-precocious daughter with respect and the witty banter the relationship deserves. He also seems to have a strong vein of artistic intergrity which pulls you towards his thinking; he’s one of the good guys amid the LA haze of fakes and phonies.
Add this all together and maybe he’s likable on some levels, but why is it I like watching his exploits so much? Is there a degree of vicarious voyeurism to the show? Probably a little, but it doesn’t quite to explaining why Californication so deeply grips me to watch. There is little to witness in the show other than the character study of a group of self-obsessed West Coast folk. There isn’t any real conflict and the obviousness of Duchovny and McElhone’s attraction to each other always outdoes the shows constant attempts to create a ‘will they, won’t they’ scenario.
I suppose there is just something fun about the show. For all the unfathomable asshole-ness of Moody, he’s overall a likeable guy. Funny, principled in a strange way, romantic. Maybe the attraction is more on a basic homosocial level. Maybe it’s just for another, longer essay. Whatever the case, Californication is far from televisual perfection. Generically, its basically a modern-sex comedy, but its worth watching purely for the comedy and charm it does possess.