Californication - Pilot episode reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
INDIELONDON singles out notable episodes from our favourite television series for stand-alone reviews. On this occasion we take a look at the pilot episode of Californication, the new series starring David Duchovny that started on Channel 5 on October 11 (2007).
What’s the story? A one-night-stand causes troubled writer Hank Moody (Duchovny) to be late in meeting 12-year-old daughter Becca at home, much to the disgust of ex-girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone). As we get to know Hank a little more, he’s clearly still struggling to come to terms with the separation and is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block to boot.
Why so good? Pilot episodes are notoriously difficult episodes to get right. Shows can stand or fall on whether they’ve done enough to hook viewers. Characters have to be established, storylines have to appear strong, and viewers have to decide whether the thing that’s being offered (be it action, comedy or romance) has been delivered well enough to make it worth tuning in for the next 10, 12 or 24 weeks.
Californication‘s pilot hit the nail firmly on the head. It was fun, sexy, well-written and established an absorbing lead character from the outset. The next 12 weeks should make for engrossing, if rude, viewing.
Digging a little deeper: David Duchovny will forever be synonymous with the name Fox Mulder from The X-Files. Attempts to distance himself from the show and find his way into movies have yet to be as successful as he’d hoped, despite some valiant efforts along the way Evolution, Trust The Man).
But the actor appears to have chosen wisely for his return to the small screen. Hank Moody is a loveable rogue. A self-absorbed philanderer, yes, but a suitably charismatic one too.
When first introduced, he’s in the bed of his latest one night stand and ready to provide her with an orgasm – something her husband has never been able to achieve. Yet before Hank can get down to business, the husband returns and he’s forced to flee without his pants (trousers, to UK viewers).
Moments later, he’s picking up his 12-year-old daughter and having to explain things to his ex-girlfriend (McElhone), for whom he clearly still has feelings.
But a bad day continues to get worse for Hank when his daughter finds a naked woman in his bedroom once they get back home – prompting another round of explaining from dad.
Californication stands or falls on whether you like Hank. To all intents and purposes, he’s an egotistical chauvanist who treats women with contempt.
But thanks to Duchovny’s impeccable timing and the sharpness of the writing, he’s not beyond our sympathy. It’s easy to see why women might fall for his good looks and easygoing charms, and why men would want to be him.
Hank is essentially a lost soul struggling to cope with heartbreak, self-loathing and a severe case of writer’s block. At heart, we suspect he stands for family values and common decency but he’s just in a bad place right now and showing little sign of escape.
It should be interesting to find out whether the ensuing storylines provide Hank with a one-way ticket to hell, or whether redemption is in sight.
And from the pilot episode alone, one suspects it’s going to be a lot of fun along the way. Californication is not only raunchy fun, but cleverly written as well.
It’s billed as “the male Sex & The City” and not without reason, but it’s also an astute observation of current entertainment trends.
Hank took several accurate pot-shots at reality TV culture and the current state of mainstream movies, culminating in one glorious moment where he beat up a guy for talking on his mobile phone while in the cinema.
And the sex is outrageous too! The nudity is refreshingly honest and the women just as bad/dirty as the men! One took a perverse glee in punching Hank at the point of orgasm, while another was prepared to let him defile her from behind. Sleazy? Yes. But it grabbed your attention and didn’t always leave Hank with the upper hand.
Kudos, too, for the wonderfully brutal put-down Hank delivered to another would-be love interest, once she’d dared him to describe her life from his perspective.
Those of a sensitive nature may yet find that Californication is too provocative for their tastes but for anyone with an open mind and a sharp sense of humour, this has all the makings of a potential classic. Superficial, yes, but well worth checking in.
What did you think?