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Why I can’t watch Californication anymore

By December 27, 20105 Comments

It is not great revelation to say that I had a huge crush on David Duchovny during The X Files days. Nor is it particularly unique. Yet, I was living a Duchovny-less life until a few years ago when a friend recommended I watch Californication. So I added it to the Netflix queue and with my significant other, sat down to check it out. I liked it, in the same way I sometimes enjoyed Curb Your Enthusiasm or Entourage. Here were people who I assumed I was not supposed to consider particularly real people, doing idiotic things and living a life which in a real person, I would find deeply, deeply abhorrent and morally reprehensible. And it was David Duchovny. At the end of our first Netflix season I said to my significant other, “It’s all very interesting, but where do you go now? He has a daughter. Do I really want to watch someone who has a daughter be vile, irresponsible and grotesque?” And the answer for myself was, all in all, no.

And now it’s Season 3, and nothing has changed. Well, some things have changed. Hank is now a full time father, rather than a part time father. He still fucks indiscriminately and hangs out with others who do likewise. His friend Runkle has, as far as I can tell, raped his wife (which is still a crime, though only really since about the 1970s when most states in the U.S. repealed head and master laws which gave husbands the right to do pretty much whatever they wanted to their wives and children), caught a venereal disease, and shared a prostitute (though she seemed at first to just be a stripper) with Rick Springfield. Ugh, ugh, and bleck.

In the interests of attempting to be fair, I will also note that thrown in there was a very touching episode in which Hank reconnects with a high school friend and reflects on how people grow apart over time and move in different directions. That was actually some good t.v.

But then there’s the scene with Runkle and Rick Springfield sharing the prostitute/stripper, and I won’t go into the gory details, because I didn’t want the image in my brain, so I’m not going to put it in yours if you don’t want it there either. Runkle, Hank, his daughter, his ex-wife, and I suppose Rick Springfield, are all characters on t.v. And they’re not, I guess, supposed to be particularly realistic characters? I don’t know. I don’t live in L.A. And some people would say I should not care and realize that it is, in the end, just a t.v. show.

But what does that mean, just a t.v. show? Is there any such thing? I spend a lot of time as a professor having this discussion with my students. One of their favorite expressions is, “I think you’re reading too much into that.” I think what they mean is that I’ve thought too much about the significance of Runkle and Rick Springfield sharing a prostitute or Runkle “kind of” raping his wife. That these things don’t really mean anything. That they’re not really worth talking or thinking about. Really?

Television shows are stories, and maybe you think that’s it. They’re just stories. But for me, stories are all there is, so there’s no “just” about them. The Iliad was a story, and the Bible and the Torah. The germ theory of disease is a story as was Manifest Destiny, the space race and Obama’s election campaign. Think about your relationships and explain to me how they’re not made up at least partly of stories. Who are you? A collection of stories, and those stories influence the decisions you make and the life you lead. Stories are what we do and who we are, and so yes, they very much matter. And the truth or un-truth of any of these kinds of stories seems less important than the content of the stories themselves.

So I’m perfectly willing to be accused of taking stories fairly seriously, and Californication has become a story I’d rather not follow anymore. I’m not a censor, so I wouldn’t deny it it’s right to exist in the world, but I’d also say that all in all, I think the world would be just fine without it, and maybe even better.


  • Jenny says:

    I feel you on this, I do. But for some reason, I'm going to keep our Showtime so that we can watch the new season which starts January 9. When Runkle “sort of” raped Marcy, I said: “I think I have to quit watching this.” And yet I kept on. Most of the characters are morally reprehensible, and all are unbelievable (I hope, anyway). Something about Natasha McElhone finally joining season 3 made it better, but then again, would she really put up with that shit? And doesn't she often just make the same expression with her strangely enormous eyes?

    I want to write more, but Addy is crying. And I have to go.

  • Jenny says:

    I'm back.

    Anyway, I don't know why I'm going to continue to watch this show. I think it would be fair to call it a show quite riddled with misogyny. But something about it remains highly entertaining and interesting and sexy. The acting? The unreality? I don't know. I do think it's getting more and more ridiculous and gross, so I don't know how long I'll last.

    I'm really gone now.

  • Robyn says:

    Yes, I said I couldn't watch anymore after the Runkle/Marcy thing, and then I was sick on the couch and Jeff wanted to watch more, and so I got to Rick Springfield and Runkle. It is oddly compelling, but after that last episode, I really felt like this is no different than watching porn. Well, maybe a little different, since they're not really having sex and contracting STDs. I guess the problem for me is the show seems to want to have it both ways. The characters act in grotesque, cartoonish ways, but then sometimes we're supposed to actually care what happens to them and believe they also have feelings? I know there are people like Hank who do really stupid shit and don't seem to be able to stop themselves, even though they know it's stupid. It's just painful enough to watch in real life, so I'm not sure why I want to watch in on t.v., too, in a way that kind of glamorizes that inability to become better. Give Addy some kisses for me.

  • Jenny says:

    I felt like season 2 was more like watching porn, although most episodes aren't far off from it.

    Here's one thing I don't get about the last season: why does Karen finally care so very much about Hank sleeping with her ex-fiance's underage daughter? He didn't know she was underage, nor who she was…so how is that different from all the other women? If she can be so blase about him sleeping with a student (amidst all the others), why is this the final straw? Silly. But I do (guiltily) look forward to watching Hank's turmoil in the next season, where apparently he is super hot in Hollywood and the literary world again, but miserable personally.

  • Robyn says:

    I think you don't get to see this in Karen as much, but Jeff and I were saying it's really no coincidence that she's with Hank. She's not exactly model parent or person, either. You leave your teenage daughter in L.A. with her barely adequate father because she has a boyfriend? Really? Is that a good parenting decision? If the writers want to convince me that somehow she's more mature or wise than anybody else in the show, I ain't buying it.

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