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Californication: Cock and Bull

Sex and the city, this time for the single guy. Duchovny tastes the fruit of Californication. (Photo By Kirk Edwards)

I generally think of David Duchovny as a laid-back kind of star. But in his return to series television, one gets the impression from just two nudity-stuffed episodes of Showtime’s new Californication that after nine years of playing monklike FBI agent Fox Mulder on The X-Files — and before that only getting to introduce the erotic anthology series Red Shoe Diaries — he’s avidly making up for lost onscreen sexy time.

Californication, on which Duchovny plays a hunky, creatively blocked L.A.-based author named Hank Moody, is a show generous with its sex, its love of sex, its sex talk . . . with its boobs, butts, come-on lines, do-me stares . . . with its dirty talk, innuendoes, in-her-endos. There’s pillow talk about the clitoris in the pilot, a vaginal-rejuvenation conversation thread in episode two. In the very first scene of the pilot Duchovny gets blown by a nun, who is actually a married woman he’s daydreaming about while he’s with her (!); then he throws another naked woman out of his house moments later, takes home a young brunette from a bookstore who likes to punch him in the face during sex, and is in the middle of screwing a totally different woman when a phone call drags him away to introduce some meddlesome plot details between the sex scenes. Something about his preteen daughter Becca about to sink into a morass of vice and sin at a pool party if he doesn’t save her, which he does, quickly. He just picks her up and carries her out. But wait, no hookup at the pool party? Can’t he just throw her in the car and go back inside?

Actually no, see, because this is Hank Moody in responsible-father mode, and besides, he’s rescuing his daughter in the presence of his ex and her mother, Karen (Natascha McElhone). She’s the Woman Hank Loved and Lost, muse to his only novel — the best-selling, generation-defining, Great American Kind, subtly titled God Hates Us All. Karen, who is getting married to a boring Beverly Hills provider named Bill (Damian Young), and precociously smart goth daughter Becca, represent the last great hope of sanity for this self-destructive satyr. See, back in the day Hank dragged Karen and Becca (Madeleine Martin) out to L.A. from New York — where real writers thrive and produce, apparently — because Hollywood made his brilliant novel into a stinky movie, and they had the gall to change the title to A Crazy Little Thing Called Love. (Excuse me, what studio would release a movie called God Hates Us All?)

Bad, bad L.A. You stole a good man from his 1 percent inspiration and — with your seductive females who apparently can’t stop throwing themselves at his cock — made him all about the 99 percent perspiration. Which, conveniently, happens to make for popular pay-cable viewing. Angst is saved for the final two minutes when Hank is alone, driving at night or sitting in the dark, supposedly brooding over his inability to . . . what, fit one more lay into the day? Because it’s a false dilemma this dishonest, unfunny, dispiritingly crude show presents: If Hank did what everyone who cared about him told him to do, he’d write, settle down and be a good father, which would immediately disqualify him as an edgy, bitingly witty cable-show lead. And Duchovny is too self-consciously cool an actor to suggest anything out of control about a guy who is having sex with that many women, which means he just seems square-ish, weak or bored when Hank pleads for Karen to reunite with him, or hugs his daughter.

In other words, Californication gives lip service to the search for redemption and goodness while it works overtime to get you hooked on tits, bad behavior and jokes like Hank being told he smells of pussy. In fact, Hank, for whom grousing about L.A. is supposed to be one of his badges of artistic integrity, is arguably even more pathetic in this area than the creators had planned. Because who really believes that in Los Angeles — beautiful, sleazy, talent-rich, morally corrupt and deliciously complicated Los Angeles — you can’t copulate, smoke, drink, go nuts and abuse your way through life without producing lasting art? Maybe that’s why Hank hates L.A. It isn’t sapping his writerly enlightenment. He just can’t hack it.

As for actor/comedian Bob Saget, he’s got some filth to sell too. The subtitle to Saget’s new HBO comedy special That Ain’t Right is Good Guy Gone Wrong, but really, if you’ve seen The Aristocrats — in which the lanky performer offers up a stream-of-consciousness version of that obscene show-biz family chestnut that would have made the Marquis de Sade blush — you know Saget was probably more uncomfortable churning out wholesomeness on Full House than doing what he famously does onstage for standup crowds. Of course, playing sweet widower dad Danny Tanner for 68 years — that is how long that show ran, right? — is probably the best setup a foulmouthed comic’s comic could hope for, because all you have to do is hit the stage, riff on fucking your TV daughter’s best friend or going gay with John Stamos, and the shock laughter magically exorcises your own demons as well as the audience who was numbed into submission watching your show as kids. It’s no wonder Saget’s a hot draw with college audiences: Seeing your boob-tube dad sound grosser than your buddies is like going to the zoo and catching that magical moment when harmless-looking creatures play with their own shit.

That Ain’t Right merrily showcases Saget’s motor-mouth brand of clinically dirty joke-alizing, where a crude-sounding tangent — on, say, lighting farts or bestiality — is both a plea for decency from a guy with three daughters (“It’s wrong, stop it”) and an excuse to describe something taboo in awful detail. You’ll laugh or you won’t — and I thought the hour was moderately amusing — but Saget’s high-school-science-teacher vibe at least removes the potential for any of it to offend. His blue shtick inevitably looks more periwinkle than navy, and feels more like catharsis than anything else, which is certainly a kind of entertainment. As he jokes at the beginning, “I did so much family television, I have Tourette’s.”

But he doesn’t ignore his rerun icon-hood, whether baiting Dave Coulier from the microphone, or recalling how he and Stamos (still close friends) once freaked out a 17-year-old in a public restroom by conversing as their Full House characters at the urinals. For most comics who hit it big, this kind of fame self-referencing is usually an out-of-touch, worship-me move — “I did a little thing called [blank],” wait for applause — but Saget wisely uses it as a way to get inside the surreality of his profile. In another Stamos anecdote, Saget says the pair of them once rushed to the aid of a driver momentarily unconscious from a car accident. Saget memorably acts out the moment of her awakening, eyes widening further as she realizes it’s “Danny” and “Jesse” peering anxiously through her windshield. Saget jokes, “This poor lady thought she was dead and in sitcom hell.”

CALIFORNICATION | Showtime | Mondays, 10:30 p.m.

THAT AIN’T RIGHT | HBO | Premieres Saturday, Aug. 25, 10 p.m.


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