A friend of mine once told me that she thought David Duchovny was a one-trick pony. I had to agree with her; I loved him in his now-iconic role as Special Agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files, but then I saw the absolutely dreadful Evolution and couldn't believe I was watching the same actor. Even in the second X-Files feature, he seemed at times to be simply going through the motions. To me, his performance here feels like a version of the parody of himself he played on The Larry Sanders Show, except the joke's going on far too long. It's not his best work, but it's not Evolution; he seems content, moving casually through the material. There's no energy, no intensity.
Then again, the material isn't exactly challenging. Season four opens with Hank Moody leaving jail (after being arrested at the end of season three), and he's greeted by his agent Charlie - who decides the smartest thing to do is immediately present him with a cigarette and alcohol. Within the first five minutes, there are at least a half-dozen expletives and one instance of a man simulating oral sex with a hand gesture. Given the title of the show, I'm not surprised, but that doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm wandering the moral low ground. I am by no means a prude, but nor do I favor rampant adult content, and this show thrives on it. Some say it's supposed to represent the flawed Los Angeles culture; I've spent years in L.A. and the city I know is nothing like this. However, it bears repeating that the title of the show is a big clue - so if the content offends you, you really have no one to blame but yourself.
Even when looking past the continuous profanity and sexual references, Californication feels like it suffers from the same issue as the last few seasons of Entourage: what wants to be a skewering of the famous world is more of a self-indulgent fantasy. One scene on face value may be about a movie, but it ends up being mostly a discussion of the lead actress's breasts, and there's a reference to bodily functions just to end it on a high note. It's more than a little repugnant to have another scene which begins with Hank telling a young woman that he loves his family, only to be having sex with her moments later. I can't help but look at him the way that I look at all the cheating men who turn up on Maury: if you really loved her, you wouldn't be sleeping with someone else. "I've got to face the music at some point," Hank says in the season premiere, but it's hard to believe that he ever truly will. There's nothing in the premiere episode that shows he is or wants to be anything other than an unrepentant hedonist.
I could forgive the content level if there was real content to be had, but nothing kept me hooked. Carla Gugino, so great in other roles (am I the only one who fondly remembers the short-lived Karen Sisco?) is completely wasted here. Not unlike Shameless, this is a series I don't care for simply because I don't engage with the protagonist. There are obviously those that do, and I don't begrudge them that at all; this is simply not a show that I would watch. Honestly, it's pretty much everything I wouldn't watch. Yet that's why television has more than one channel.
Californication premieres tomorrow at 9 PM ET/PT on Showtime.