October 3, 2008

Livin' the California Dream, Boobs and All

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Showtime really messed up the other day, for which I am ecstatically grateful: when my roommates and I went to watch our On Demand, ready-for-viewing copy of the Californication premiere, there was not one but two episodes of Californication in my On Demand box. Two. As in: the premiere and next week’s, not aired yet episode. Showtime, I love you, and I promise to not say anything bad about you for at least another 3 to 6 months.
I was so excited about this that I called my mom to tell her (my life is not very exciting these days).
“Mom, guess what!”
“One of your stories got picked up by The New York Times?” (She likes to dream big.)
“Noooo … Showtime screwed up and gave us the second episode of Californication.”
“Isn’t that that show you and your father like where that writer in L.A. goes around having sex with all those women?”
“Remind me why you’re watching this when you have work to do?”
As usual, my mother is right about everything.
I got turned on to Californication last year by my friend Dave, who said, “It’s pretty misogynistic and has a lot of boobies, but you’re kinda a dude and you like Venice Beach so I think you’ll like it.” He was right, on all counts: it’s pretty mysogenistic, there are a lot of boobies, but I still enjoy it a lot.
Quick premise for those of you who have lives and therefore don’t watch as much TV as me: Hank Moody is a self-hating, noble writer who moved to L.A. with his life partner (woman, just not married) and daughter — only to drive her away to another man. He hasn’t written in a long time, and instead fills most of his time by having sex with nubile and sexy women of Los Angeles while pining after his ex-kinda wife. It’s a hard job (no pun intended, really) but somebody’s gotta do it.
Except that a lot of people do do it, or have done it already: Los Angeles is a city full of “writers” and writers who don’t write but talk about it, and instead drink a lot, smoke a lot and fuck even more. As premises go, self-hating but noble writer who has lots of sex while pining after the woman who got away has been done. And done. And done. And it’s unsurprising, given that most of these narratives are written by male writers who at least wish they were having a lot of sex and probably do have some woman on a pedestal somewhere — or love that romanticized idea of that one, perfect woman.
Because that’s what Californication — and Entourage, and shows like them — are: semi self-indulgent fantasies about L.A., sex and a good guy who can snap his fingers and magically make women’s clothing fall off. Kinda like a sexual, artistic Houdini. (Except these days, they call fantasies “heightened reality,” which is basically just fantasy going to college and getting a dual-degree in critical theory and PR.)
Really, at least in Californication, most of the women can hold an intelligent conversation when they proposition Hank; usually the girls in Entourage say one line, usually involving, “When do I get to have sex with Vince?” or “Turtle, don’t touch me — that’s rape.” Instead, the women in Californication are just misguided, insecure babes with body issues and terrible taste in men, except for Hank.
And yet, I love the show. I love the show so much that getting an extra episode was a highlight of my Sunday — similar to the time when Joey and Chandler find out that they have free porn. (Don’t even pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.) I love it, my female roommates love it, my friends love it more than they love me and use me for my television. (Hi Rabia/Rachel.)
And … it’s a little bit embarrassing, especially because I spend so much time espousing on “all ze wrongs zat ze TV does to ze vomen!” Should I not watch it, just because basically there are only three types of women on the show: kick-ass ideal ones (Karen and Marcy), ambitious, oversexed crazy-ass bitches (Mia and Dani) and all the misguided, insecure sluts (everyone else). Oh, and his daughter — but she’s more like a goth Tiny Tim-bot these days than she is an actual person. The show itself even addresses this: in one episode last season, Hank has sex with a woman planning on getting vaginal reconstructive surgery (yup, that’s gross), and then bitches on his blog, “Why is Los Angeles so hell-bent on destroying its female population?”
I don’t know. Maybe Kapinos (Californication’s showrunner and creator) thinks he’s fairly representing L.A. and the women there: it’s true that women (and people generally) in L.A. are at least 13% more insecure than anywhere else. But does that mean the constant dropping-of-trou is also true? I don’t know. I lived in L.A. for a little while and I don’t think I ever noticed any number-exchanging between convertibles on the 10 or women in barely-there bikini tops hopping into bed with random guys from the grocery store. I may have missed it. I probably don’t hang out at the right grocery stores. But it seems that Californication — and Hank — are stuck in this bind where on one hand, they loathe the insecure-promiscuous Los Angeles woman, but on the other constantly fantasize about her.
I’m not saying don’t watch (obviously). I don’t have a bone to pick with the writers the way I used to with Josh Schwartz. I just think that it’s interesting where Carrie Bradshaw is viewed, and yes, written, as selfish, self-involved and often annoying, Hank is that loveable man-baby who constantly screws up, gets screwed, but is still a likeable, albeit messed up, lead. Maybe it’s because where Carrie so rarely admitted that she sucked, that’s Hank’s tagline.
Actually, it’s probably because HBO never gave me an extra episode of Sex and the City. Let that be a lesson to cable-TV suppliers everywhere.

P.S.: As a completely unrelated note, I find it extremely amusing that Californication showrunner Tom Kapinos’s only previous credit was as a writer-producer on Dawson’s Creek. Thank God that Hank is nothing like James Van der Beek.