The confusion around "Californication" begins with its title.
"I didn't think the show was about sex, you know? I didn't want to lead with that," says star and executive producer David Duchovny, looking startlingly fit between takes on the series' Culver City set. "I thought the show is more about the heart of this family that he's trying to raise. We just couldn't come up with a better title. I blame myself. But I'd rather have a good show and a bad title than vice versa."
Despite perhaps putting the wrong foot forward, the Showtime series has garnered major nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy of Tilm and Television Arts and the Golden Globes, at which Duchovny won a lead actor award as Hank Moody, the conflicted, smart-mouthed jerk and loyal, loving family man with the impulse control of a tumbleweed.
"There's this heart in the show that he's truly in love with this one woman and that he's a good parent, in a really horrible way. These are paradoxes that I thought were mature," says the Yale- and Princeton-educated Duchovny. "This was more adult, more articulate, less of a man-boy and more of a man. Comedy for grown-ups, starring a grown-up."
Hank is the unflatteringly candid picture of the romantic-turned-cynic, struggling to rebuild the family he let slip away with his estranged girlfriend, Karen (Natascha McElhone), and their daughter, Becca (a sullen teen captured to a T by Madeleine Martin). But ask those who didn't give "Californication" a chance and you'll probably get a curled lip and a description of a sexist show about a sex-addict writer who treats women like sex objects.
That's not this show.
"Separate 'sexist' from 'sex.' There's a lot of discussion about sex on the show, and I think people have a knee-jerk reaction: 'Oh, my God, that's sexist!' Duchovny says. "People kind of lose their minds as soon as they hear the word or prefix 'sex.' The fact that Charlie Runkle [Evan Handler] has so much sex is evidence that women are seen as very sympathetic creatures," he says, laughing, of Hank's less-than-studly agent who uses his handsome client as an enticing wingman.
"Hank's lack of respect is really for himself, not for anybody else. There's a line in the next episode that says, 'We're all grown-ups, there are no victims here.' It's not like anybody wakes up with Hank and he's a different guy than he was the night before."
One unnoticed, wry touch on the set of Hank's dining room is the presence of the book "The Myth of Male Power" -- the movers and shakers on the show tend to be the women, presenting the various magnetic poles that make Hank dance.
"If you look at the way he gets involved with women, he's very passive. It's like this despair comes over him; he can't go against whatever is flowing at the time," Duchovny says. "If he was a guy who was always on the make, it would be harder to cut him the slack. He's just kind of -- if he can't be with the one he loves, he's loving the one he's with."
Some of the actor's favorite moments on the series so far illustrate its range: from the naked and ridiculous to the emotionally naked and sublime. He still laughs when he sees an early-season scene of a drug-fueled romp between Hank and a friend of Karen's, which abruptly erupts into what he calls "the double-puke scene."
"But there's also a scene from the first season where I walk with Becca on the Venice canals and I sing Dylan's 'If You See Her, Say Hello' to her. It just really surprised me, the sentimentality that I liked very much about it. When you juxtapose it with the crudeness and the explicit nature of some of the other stuff, it just seems real and right."
So why does the show not have a bigger audience? It's possible the misguided title and tag lines (one implying the show is about a midlife crisis), and media descriptions inaccurately pegging Hank as a sex addict have blurred with tabloid headlines about Duchovny's personal struggles.
"I don't concern myself with people's perceptions of the show," he says, becoming visibly uncomfortable. "It's all very personal. The things that I do on the show have never had anything to do with my personal life. There has never been any kind of parallel that we've done."
There is still hope, as the show enters Season 3 with guest stars such as Kathleen Turner and Peter Gallagher, that it will come into focus for those who can't see the forest for the sleaze. "For the most part, I feel that we're a drama that doesn't know it's a comedy," said the star. "To me that feels right, that feels like life to me. Because we all think we're in a drama, but actually we're in a comedy."