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Californication: The First Season (2007)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 6/17/2008

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/10/2008

I'm going to sound like a snob here -- no, an ignorant snob -- but here goes. Despite the fact that pay-cable original TV shows have been very successful and garnered many awards, I still see them as second-class citizens. (The opening of the Sex and the City movie is a testament to the popularity of these shows.) Yes, I know that Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Weeds, and countless others have been lauded for their quality (and I've enjoyed some of those shows), I still don't see them as being on par with the regular network shows. (Don't ask my why...because I don't know.) So, when I heard that David Duchovny was going to have a show on Showtime, I felt somewhat sorry for him. Cable? Really? But, having now seen Californication: The First Season, I know that Duchovny made a wise choice.

Duchovny stars in Californication as Hank Moody, a novelist living in Los Angeles. Hank is originally from New York, but (it's implied that) when his book God Hates Us All was optioned to be a movie, Hank moved to L.A. with his partner, Karen (Natasha McElhone) and their daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin). As the series opens, Hank and Karen's relationship has ended and she and Becca are living with Bill (Damian Young). However, Hank still sees Becca regularly and constantly confesses to Karen that he messed up and that he wants her back. On the professional front, Hank has written a novel in years, and he's living off of the royalties of the movie, "A Crazy Little Thing Called Love", which was made from his book. Hank's agent, Charlie (Evan Handler), is constantly hounding Frank to write something new. Eventually, Charlie gets Hank a gig writing a blog for an on-line magazine. But, Hank spends most of time wandering L.A. meeting and bedding beautiful women. Hank wants to get his life (and family) back together, but he's swimming in the debauchery of this city of sin.

I won't go as far as saying that Californication is a television milestone, but it does achieve the nearly impossible; the show is raw and shocking, while still being moving and engaging. The title implies that the show is about sex, and in many ways, it most certainly is. Hank has won some sort of cosmic grand prize and has illicit sex with strange women on nearly every episode. And if you thought Sex and the City was frank in it's depiction and description of sex, then you haven't seen anything yet. Despite the fact that this show is on pay cable, I kept saying aloud, "Can you say/show that on TV?" Californication isn't afraid to delve into fetishes and bodily fluids which are rarely discussed in mixed company. (In some ways, the show is like the 90's HBO series Dream On, where the main character was constantly bedding a new woman, and nudity abounded.) This slant leads to scenes which will make some laugh and others cringe.

But, Californication isn't just about "smut". The show delivers a level of character development which is rare for any medium, not just TV. Hank is an extremely complicated person, as he's both cocky and self-loathing. (His outward confidence is clearly a thin mask for his inner turmoil.) Hank is outspoken and usually says whatever is on his mind -- whether it offends or not. However, he is also a deeply personal person, and he clearly cares for Karen and Becca a great deal. Hank is also a challenging character. While we always find him funny, his self-destructive behavior makes it difficult to always like him. Karen is interesting as well, as she clearly has feelings for Hank, but she is still hurt by their past together and she knows that Bill is safe. We also learn a great deal about Becca and Charlie (actually, we learn a little too much about Charlie...). (But, I'm still not clear why all of Hank's books are named after Slayer albums.)

If the paragraph above lead you to believe that Californication tackles some serious subject matter, then you'd be correct. However, the show is also a very funny comedy. Duchovny has shown traces of being a world-class smart-ass in the past (mostly as Fox Mulder on The X-Files) and he really lets loose here. Despite the fact that he's a womanizing drunk, Hank is one of the funniest characters on TV and each episode contains at least one, if not more, classic, quotable lines. Again, Hank always says what he's thinking, and you'll be envious of some of the one-liners which he pulls off. The humor is often quick and biting, and I can't help but wonder if Duchovny is making up half of what Hank says.

I must admit that Californication really took my by surprise. On the surface, it's a sex-obsessed show about life in L.A. and the entertainment industry. But, that's just the lure to bring you into the world of a complicated man who once had everything and is now looking for a way to get it all back. Equally funny and sad, Californication is frank, raw, and real. You may hate Frank, but you'll find yourself chuckling over what he says. Californication: The First Season earns my highest rating for a TV show -- my admission that I can't wait for Season Two.

Californication: The First Season takes a swing at DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. This 2-disc set contains all 12 episodes from the show's first season. The episodes are presented in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear for the most part, but it does show a slight amount of grain at times -- although I think that this may be an artistic choice. The picture shows no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and are natural looking. The image is never overly bright, although some scenes are a bit dark. The image showed some trace elements of video noise at times. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides some nice stereo and surround effects at times, mostly during crowd and street scenes. The in-show music sounds very good, and musical cues fill the speakers. There's not much here in the way of subwoofer response.

The Californication: The First Season DVD set contains only a few extras.  Disc 1 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the "Pilot" with star David Duchovny, Creator Tom Kapinos, and Director Stephen Hopkins. This is one of the better commentaries which I've heard recently, as the three provide a hilarious chat. They talk about the production of the pilot -- discussing locations and shooting schedules --, the characters and the actors. Duchovny has many great lines here, as he jokes about his performance and the look of the show. Disc 2 contains text BIOGRAPHIES for the main cast and a PHOTO GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long