The SmarK DVD Rant for Californication: Season One

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“Why is there a naked lady in your bedroom?”

“You stay right there.”

“There’s no hair on her vagina. Do you think she’s OK?”

– Hank Moody and his daughter discuss the facts of life in their own way.

I was kind of prepared to hate this show when I first started watching it, because the pilot was such pretentious LA-chic hipster crap at times that I was thinking the whole series would be that insufferable. I was very happy to discover how wrong I was after the end of 12 episodes and it quickly turned into one of my favourite new shows of the year.

Indeed, the show starts out pretty rough, and David Duchovny, as successful novelist Hank Moody, is a pretty unlikeable guy. He screws anything that moves (most notably the 16-year old daughter of his ex-girlfriend’s fiance) and beats up a guy in a movie theatre for using a cell phone. At this point the show is kind of boring and you’re thinking “Oh great, another show about how tough it is to live in LA when you’re rich and bored”, but it quickly becomes apparent that Hank Moody is far more of a three-dimensional character than the ones in the novels that he used to write. The strange and wonderful relationship between himself and his ex-girlfriend Karen, as they form a bizarre extended family unit and try to raise their daughter, Becca, while coping with their own insecurities. Even more enjoyable, though, is the stranger relationship between Hank’s agent Charlie and his wife, as they discover that alternative lifestyles aren’t so glamorous as you see on Cinemax at night.

I think that’s what I enjoyed most about the show — it’s like Sex & The City for guys, showcasing a grown-up view on sex and relationships in the real world. And even better, it’s REALLY funny. Funny in the raunchiest and filthiest ways possible, sure, but as long as you can get why unexpected female ejaculation or statutory rape can be funny, you’ll laugh your ass off by the end of the season. Of course, if you don’t think Hank telling someone that “The big hand is pointing to F!@# and the little hand is pointing to Off” is a funny putdown, then you’re hopeless.

The first season is presented on two discs, covering 12 episodes, as followed:

Disc One

– “Pilot”. This one sets up everything that follows, as we meet Hank, who wrote a book called God Hates Us All, which gets turned into a rom-com with “Tom and Katie” called A Crazy Little Thing Called Love. This one produces the quote I started with, and also introduces eventual antagonist Mia, who he accidentally beds after chatting her up in a bookstore. As I noted, this one’s a little dull and you probably won’t like Hank much to start, but give it time. Commentary with Duchovny and the producers is available for this one.

– “Hell-A Woman”. Hank gets set up with a Scientologist at a dinner party given by his ex, Karen, and her future husband Bill. Things get off to a bad start with her when they both puke all over Bill’s art, which actually sets up another great gag later in the season. We meet Hank’s agent Charlie and his Suicide Girl assistant Dani (as in “Dani California” I’m assuming) and that leads to more stuff later on. Hank starts a job writing a blog for Hell-A Magazine, owned by Bill, which seems like it’s going to be the main theme for the show but surprisingly ends up a minor plot point to be forgotten later.

– “The Whore Of Babylon”. This is where things really start to take off, as Hank gets into a public d!@k-punching battle with the director of “his” movie (Hank gets hit a LOT over the course of the season), and Charlie learns that his secretary is into taking more than dictation from him.

– “Fear And Loathing At The Fundraiser”. Hank’s budding relationship with the Scientologist comes crashing down when they attend an innocuous fundraiser and it turns into a three-ring circus, including an extended series of people throwing the c-word around at each other. Hank walking in on Charlie and Dani and exclaiming “HOLY F!@KNUTS!” is a true laugh-out-loud moment for the series, as well.

– “LOL”. Which brings us to this one, as Hank gets roped into speaking at Mia’s school and finds himself very popular with more high school girls than just Mia. Hank rails against text messaging on a radio show, which costs him his relationship, and Mia steals the guitar teacher crush of poor young Becca, which is kind of a crappy thing to do but fits perfectly with her self-centered nature.

– “Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder”. Hank gets robbed by his own night stand, foreshadowing a later problem with a woman on a larger scale. Mia asks Hank for help with her writing in the form of giving her old material to recycle, but he only offers to give her notes on her own stuff, and that sets up the big storyline later on as well. The true highlight here is Charlie trying to bring his new love of S & M home to the wife, and finding that it doesn’t work as well at home as it does in the office.

Disc Two

– “Girls Interrupted”. Charlie and his wife take the next logical step to saving their marriage, bringing Dani into the mix, but again it turns out that girl-on-girl action isn’t as hot as you see on TV. The payoff is another hilarious moment in a series of them. Hank tries to reconcile with his estranged director, but questions how you can option a blog, exactly. It’s a good question. Probably my favorite episode, straddling the line between sexy and incredibly awkward that makes the show work so well.

– “California Son”. This one is all about Hank, fleshing out his character as we meet his father in flashbacks and show how he got kind of messed up as a result. Hank hiring a hooker (played by Kitty Sanchez of Arrested Development!) without knowing if she’s a hooker or not, and then not having the cash to pay her is the kind of humor you’re getting into here. The big angst begins here as well, as Karen comforts Hank in the only way that will truly soothe his soul.

– “Filthy Lucre”. Hank gets a big fat royalty check for his hated movie, and he immediately tries to use it to replace love with money. Buying a new Porsche leads to a very Hank moment, as he fails to learn the lesson of women wrecking his life because he’s thinking with his genitals instead of his head. However, the money-for-love technique works better with his daughter, as he helps her music career by buying a cool guitar from a down-and-out guitarist. However, most importantly, his trip to his dad’s funeral produces his first novel in forever, which produces a series of jokes about whether he’ll deliver it before Guns ‘N Roses can deliver their new album. You can milk that one FOREVER because Chinese Democracy ain’t never hitting record stores.

– “The Devil’s Threesome”. Charlie has another brush with a threesome, but this time it’s the BAD one, as a girl he wants is more interested in Hank and won’t deliver unless he’s part of it. Hank’s bored acceptance of what should be an incredibly hot moment is a great character moment and a nice twist on the usual Hollywood concept of these things. Not to mention the punchline, as Hank remembers why he dumped the girl in the first place, albeit too late. And Mia steals Hank’s new book (which is about their one night stand, not coincidentally) and goes to budding agent Dani with “her” new book.

– “Turn The Page”. Mia’s writing talents seem to be propelling her to the fast track in the publishing world, leading to a game of emotional chicken with Hank over who will spill their half of the secret first. Becca wants to move in with Hank on a full-time basis, breaking her mother’s heart. And the wedding of Karen and Bill looms large, leading to the season finale…

– “The Last Waltz”. Lives are changing all around, as Becca becomes a woman (while Hank has custody, of course), and Bill marries Karen despite everyone expecting Hank to be the guy who objects. Even so, the wedding turns into something out of WWE and the season wraps up with a bang, not to mention in a matter satisfying enough for fans if they had decided to end it there. Luckily, it’s coming back for season 2.

This is definitely a “stick with it” show, as the first couple of episodes take a while to get going, but once the train of profanity and sex gets going, there’s no stopping it. Truly, a sitcom for grownups, as Showtime pumps out quality content on par with HBO these days. Who’d have thunk it?

Audio & Video

Another good transfer from Showtime/CBS, as the show was originally broadcast in HD and it mostly carries over here, presented in 16 x 9 widescreen. I did notice the some of the edges were pretty soft and things were a bit dark, but overall it’s an excellent picture for a TV show. The audio is less impressive, as we’re given a choice of Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo or Dolby 5.1, and I actually enjoyed the 2.0 mix better, as the 5.1 mix featured a very quiet center channel. And that’s death for a show that’s as dialogue-driven as this one. The surrounds are rarely used aside from music, and ditto for the subwoofer, but it’s not the kind of show to feature either of them.

Bonus Features

Aside from the one commentary on the pilot, the only bonus features are the ubiquitous photo gallery and biographies that are on every crappy DVD release. If you watch on a computer (cough…LOSER!…cough) you can stream episodes of Dexter and the Tudors, but other than that there’s a reason they sum it up with “…and MORE!” on the DVD box and don’t elaborate.

The Ratings

The Show: *****

The Video: ****

The Audio: **

The Extras: *1/2

The Pulse

Biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year for me thus far, as I’m anxiously awaiting the second season in September. Highly recommended.


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