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TV Weekend: Sex and Drugs

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Kirk Edwards/Showtime; Cliff Lipson/Showtime

This Sunday Monday, Showtime returns Weeds and introduces the David Duchovny comedy Californication. I first heard about Californication and couldn’t wait to see it; then I watched it and kind of didn’t want to review it. I really like Duchovny, not just because of The X-Files; he’s a good comic actor whose talent exceeds his career choices.

Californication, unfortunately, doesn’t break the pattern for him. The pilot episode (all Showtime sent) plays like a Mad Libs version of an “edgy” cable comedy: “HANK MOODY, a self-destructive WRITER living in LOS ANGELES, is addicted to SEX, which he uses to distract himself from HIS FAILED RELATIONSHIPS and DISAPPOINTING CAREER. In a fantasy sequence, he has ORAL SEX WITH A NUN. He wants to connect with HIS DAUGHTER, but fears their relationship may be ruined by HIS TREATMENT OF WOMEN. So he talks to his best friend, played by EVAN HANDLER…”

And like that. The show has the occasional funny, and probably NSFW, one-liner and Duchovny’s deadpan saves a handful of the less-funny ones too. But the show looks like another example of “nonformulaic” shows can be as formulaic as any other.

Oh, and the sex: Californication has gotten an advance reputation as a groundbreakingly sexual show, mainly, I think, because of its name. But it’s really the same sort of highly stylized sex that’s the price of admission all over pay cable, with perhaps a slightly higher boob-per-minute ratio. I’ve been watching a lot of HBO’s upcoming Tell Me You Love Me (they sent all 10 episodes), and there the sex really is different from what you’re used to seeing on cable. It’s not just more explicit; it’s clumsy, awkward, emotional and freighted–each act reveals something about the relationships between the couples. (Hopefully, I’ll be writing more about this down the road.) On Californication, it’s the standard cut-to-a-hot-naked-woman-straddling-someone-and-throwing-her-head-back business.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, y’know; there’s just nothing new.

Much stronger recommendation for Weeds, which picks up right where the various season 2 cliffhangers left off–short story, Nancy Botwin gets herself deeper over her head in the pot-dealing business–and had me immediately absorbed, playing the 4 episodes Showtime sent back-to-back-to-back-to-back. This weekend, drugs beat sex.

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