"Californication: The First Season" DVD Review
June 18, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Iím not sure what got me to check out Californication during its first season run on the Showtime network; I wasnít a huge fan of start David Duchovny and I heard little about it before watching the pilot. Perhaps I was just in the mood to try something new and thatís exactly what I got from Californication. While it may follow the same pattern of other dramatic shows, how it goes about it is what makes it unique and the smattering of witty dialogue that accompanies each and every episode is what kept me coming back. Unlike other shows that take place solely in California and end up annoying me with just how dirty and grimy they can get, Californication kept its head up throughout the season and remained a family affair. With a boatload of cursing and nudity.
Golden Globe winner David Duchovney (who won one for X-Files as well as this very show) makes his long-awaited return to TV with the Showtime series Californication as troubled author Hank Moody. While dealing with from writers block to his sex and drug addictions, Hank struggles to maintain a relationship with his daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin) and consistently trying to win back his wife, Karen (Natascha McElhone). Just when Hankís life starts to take an upswing, the only copy of his manuscript is stolen and Karen announces that she is engaged to her new boyfriend, Bill (Damian Young).
Despite the series first season being comprised of a scant few twelve episodes, I eagerly awaited each week for their premiere. The showís wit is what really kept me coming back (it wasnít the insane amount of female nudity for the first few episodes of the series, if thatís what you were thinking) and the sarcastic and dry humor of the show really clicked with me. I couldnít get enough of Moodyís dry way of spewing forth dialogue and the supporting cast was nothing short of a brilliant mix as well.
While I felt that the ending to the first season was a little too ďstorybookĒ, I can see why they did it. As a first season show, the prospect of getting renewed in the bitter television market was slim and the writers likely wanted to tie up loose ends in the event they didnít get a pickup. Fortunately for us they did and now we have to wait to see how the next season progresses before we can see how the writers will get themselves out of the deliriously upbeat and happy ending to the season. I would have just as soon had it end on a depressing note, as the happiness of it all seemed to be a bit too much for the show to handle and, quite frankly, seemed a tad out of character. Iím obviously dancing around the issue of what made it so happy, but I donít want to spoil the series for anyone reading this review.
Candy sweet ending aside, the rest of the season was just about as explicit in nature as youíd expect from a Showtime show. It spared no expense in early episodes to reel in the viewer with an abundance of bare flesh and torrents of foul language, but by mid-season it seemed to level out and find that it didnít need the constant sex to engage the viewer and instead focused on the dialogue that really made the show what it is. Every scene of the show was pitch perfect, delivering just the right amount of tension and hilarity with every piece of dialogue that came forth from Hank or his agent Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) who had his own hilarious side story going on. Quite simply put the series is a riot to watch and also to remain wholesome in a singular way with Hank constantly trying to win back the love of his life whom he (stupidly) let slip away.
The series has its fair share of strong episodes, but one of my favorites is the episode where Hank learns that his father died. Hank all but loses it as he spirals into a massive load of drugs, hookers and alcohol, only to be bailed out by the people that love him. Itís a definite love/hate/hate relationship (and I did mean to use hate twice, itís that strong) between Hank and his father and the series, as it did with just about every other element of the show, played it all out perfectly.
Another aspect of the show that always stood out to me was its use of music. While it mixed in its own instrumental music now and then, the majority of the music was provided by outside artists. Ranging from Foo Fighters, Elton John and even to the lesser known Harvey Danger (listen to them!), the music mix on the show is as eclectic as Hank Moody's various writings and witty retorts in the show itself. Each one of the songs blended superbly with each scene that required an extra kick and never once did I feel that it hindered the show in any way...which is saying something, considering how easily and overplayed mainstream music can be.
Without a doubt Californication is one of my favorite shows of the past few years and it promises to only get better. Not surprisingly the show isnít for everyone; it earns the TV-MA rating with every episode and it isnít something Iíd share with anyone under the age of seventeen. Quite honestly I question whether a younger crowd would find the show much deeper than a Will Ferrell film and only watch it for the language and nudity. The show has so many deeper elements to it that you can only appreciate with age and the quote on the rear of the DVD cover from Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Doug Elfman fits the series perfectly: ďAdults behaving like adults on TV. What a novel idea.Ē Highly Recommended.
Those hoping for a powerhouse box set will be sorely disappointed, as extras for this series is limited. Before we delve into that area of the set, however, we can take a look at the packaging and presentation of the set whichÖis rather disappointing. The original cover for the season set release featured a much better cover, with a snake coiled around Duchovny, but I assume the shirtless and hairy-chested actor was too much for DVD goers to handle, so it was replaced with Hank in a bathrobe and a rather voluptuous female lounging about on a poolside recliner. Itíll catch a few more eyes but the abundance of color thrown into the mix just looks strange to meÖor maybe itís the six pack of abs that Duchovny is sporting. Two thin-paks are housed inside a slipcase and mirror the cover art from the outside; inside the thin-pakís are only the discs, which feature plain grey disc art (the Paramount usual).
Video and audio for the set is solid and what youíd expect from a recent production. Colors and details are nice and crisp, with solid black levels and a front-heavy Dolby Surround 5.1 track. There isnít much to boast about here in terms of technical presentation; itís run of the mill and doesnít disappoint or detract from the viewing in any way. Alternative English 2.0 and Spanish Mono audio tracks are also available alongside a lone English Close Captioned track.
Much to my surprise, despite it not being advertised anywhere on the packaging, the pilot episode, ďPilotĒ, features commentary with David Duchovny, Tom Kapinos and Stephen Hopkins. Itís not much of an extra, considering this is the only extra with commentary, but itís a still a pleasant surprise considering I canít find any documentation of this set actually have any extras at all. The trio makes for an entertaining listen and offer their comments on the progression of the show. Itís not much of an extra, but itís a welcome one, especially since I thought this was originally a barebones release.
The second disc houses no extra surprise commentary, although there is a selection of cast biographies and a severely filtered photo gallery from the show. Downloads for Dexter and Tudors season two episodes and a video advertising the chance to win a trip to Los Cabos, Mexicao is included as well. I guess you could count the menus as extras, as the intros with Hank engaging in an IM style conversation is quite humorous, although the menu transitions of a topless Mia (Madeline Zima) throwing her fist into Hankís eye make for a surprising bit of animation in between menus.
Overall the extras are disappointing but the show itself is worth the purchase price of the set. Highly Recommended.
Californication: The First Season is now available on DVD.