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A comedy without laughs, a satire without meaning

August 27, 2007|Al Martinez

As one who writes for a living, I have known and often been good friends with other writers, some of them famous, but none of them, I am pleased to say, bear any resemblance to Hank Moody.

He is the desperate, haunted, sluggish novelist played by David Duchovny on a new television series called "Californication." The show, offered by Showtime as a comedy (huh?), is a mixture of sex, booze, drugs, love and vomit, which, as I can plainly see, already has you chuckling with delight.

Moody is played moodily by Duchovny in the low-key manner that characterized him as Fox Mulder on "The X-Files," except that now, extrapolating a bit, he would be reeling from whiskey he drinks straight from the bottle and Dana Scully would be offering herself to him at every opportunity. And then they would soar off in a UFO together while having sex.

Words like "sophistication" have been employed to describe the show, which seems to spin on both Moody's success as a writer and his intense dislike of L.A. Together they ramp up his angst to a level of self-destruction that most writers never enjoy unless they're unlucky enough to have sold a book to the movies and live in Malibu.

All of this is thrust upon us in obscenity-laced dialogue offered only on cable channels because we pay a little extra and deserve what TV writers consider smart writing, i.e. the ability to use the F-word with impunity.

The poor souls who can't afford cable are doomed to live out their drab lives bereft of the randy delights of naked female breasts right there on the tube, and of Mulder, I mean Moody, being hurled off a bed by a woman who may be just too much for him. Picture Scully on performance-enhancing drugs. Wow.

In one scene, a woman says flat out that she wants Moody to, you know, do it to her and then drops her loose-fitting garment to reveal stark nakedness, which leads one to wonder if she's always that ready or is this a special occasion? The whole thing is an erotic male fantasy for those who otherwise might never know the joy of what used to be called free love until we realized that nothing is really free in a commerce-fueled culture. A guy who lacks Moody's solemn appeal, a CPA maybe or a shoe salesman, can project himself into the role of sex magnet and enjoy a whole 30 minutes of excitement that he might otherwise not experience.

I've got to tell you, though, while I've known some drunken, haunted writers, none of them, as I said earlier, were anything like Moody and therefore lacked his allure. The ones I knew just stayed drunken and haunted and freelanced for bawdy men's magazines while dreaming of a sale to Reader's Digest.

Why, you might wonder, would I even bother watching a show that at best is a monstrous cliche and at worst panders to every prurient interest we might secretly possess? I do it for you. My job, as I see it, and I obviously have never seen it too clearly, is to keep pace with the speed of our free fall into hell.

A society's destruction has always been to some degree associated with its entertainment. Think of the Romans cheering on the wild animals they let loose on the unfortunate humans in the Coliseum, which, one imagines, filled the listless weekends of those who otherwise would be out raping and pillaging. That peculiar form of in-your-face theater helped shape our current love of uncensored, dirty entertainment. It's for that very purpose that God invented cable television.

I have been accused occasionally by defenders of certain TV shows, movies and theatrical presentations of not understanding satire. One instance was my dislike of Edward Albee's play "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" in which the main character is in love with, and having sex with, a goat. What I said was that while I enjoy the company of animals as much as the next guy, there is a point beyond which none of us ought to go to display our affection.

My interpretation of satire is more a needle prick than a 6-inch nail driven through the forehead, which is so in the case of "Californication," a term that originated in Oregon to describe the mass movement of Californians to the Northwest, there to build movie studios and housing tracts among the pristine forests. Or whatever.

Having said all of this, I am not accusing Duchovny of personally contributing to our cultural free fall. He's an actor. He reads a script and stands on the chalk line scribbled on a soundstage and does what the director tells him to do.

Unfortunately, the so-called creative team has given us a show that offers little more than an awkward interpretation of a writer's sad life as seen through the eyes of those who are not actually writers. It is therefore more intended for boys under 14 who have not seen a naked boob since they were breast-fed, and are now being offered an opportunity to be breast-fed all over again by a show that reveals nothing new or unique.

But then it's satire, and I may have missed its deeper meaning.

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