August 13, 2007 Jill

Californication written by Tom Kapinos (who ran Dawson’s Creek in its fourth season) aired. You’ve seen it. Maybe you liked it. I know I did.

Let’s look under the hood.

It is more a typical-episode pilot than a premise pilot. Hank bumbles through what seems to be his normal routine. But it is the beginning of an arced series. Maybe the meeting with Mia will set off a major storyline and then we can look back at this episode and say it was a premise pilot because he met Mia and that set up everything that followed. I’m filing this under typisode.

The episode is nearly 33 minutes with titles and credits and no commercial breaks which makes it longer than a half hour, by almost ten minutes but shorter than an hour by another ten.

The pretitles teaser is five minutes long and although it runs without commercials, we can feel an act break at 12:35 and another around 26:30, followed by a four minute third act.

The episode is held together by three story threads: Hank’s relationship with his ex and daughter (A), his obsession with his novel and the movie based on it (B) and his sexual exploits (C). They are all intertwined and the plot/subplot breakdown doesn’t do much for this show.

But it really is more organic to look at the episode as a series of vignettes, almost all of which with women. There are fourteen of these sequences (which don’t really conform to the A,B,C breakdown I’ve imposed on them in brackets):

Teaser: the nun (C), the married woman (C)
Act 1: Karen (the ex) and Becca (the daughter) (A), the director’s wife (B), Karen and Becca (A), a guy in a movie theatre (B), Mia in the bookstore (B/C)
Act 2: Karen and Becca’s teacher (A), Hank’s agent (B), Meredith the blind date (B meets C), the nameless bar girl (C), Karen and Becca (A)
Act 3: Karen and Mia (A meets C), Hank alone (A)

Act One is really mostly about his obsession with his novel-turned-movie. The naked woman his daughter finds in his bed is the movie’s director. He goes to see the movie then he goes to see the novel in the bookstore.

Act Two tops and tails with beats about Becca acting out; the teacher’s concern and her parents bursting into a party to carry her out. In between, Hank acts out, mouthing off to his blind date.

The opening and closing scenes bookend the story. At the top of the show he tells the nun:

I’m having what you might call a crisis of faith.
Put simply, I can’t write.

In the final scene, his fingers twitch above the keyboard. On the screen, we see the letters appear F” U” C” K”

Opening shot
The show begins with the opening strains of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” playing over black. We fade in on a long lush drive, sprinklers going on either side and Porsch driving up it towards an impressive church. Or is it a cathedral?

Opening line
Hank address Jesus on the cross: “‘Kay, big guy. You and me.”

The Hooks
The show has a lot of sex scenes and outrageous moments:

Hank drops a cigarette in holy water.
A nun gives him a blow job, in front of Jesus. No nudity.
Hank and married woman talk about cunilingus. Nudity.
Hank’s daughter comments on the hairless vagina.
Director’s wife gets dresses. Nudity.
Mia rides Hank and punches him. Nudity.
Nameless girl in the bar rides Hank then offers herself up on her hands and knees. Nudity.
Hank finds out he slept with a sixteen year old.

Third Act Statement of Theme
At about the twenty minute mark, Hank is in conversation with his agent who points out Hank’s prediliction for unavailable women. Hank tells “I’m disgusted with my life and myself but I’m not unhappy about that.” Is this a statement of theme? Maybe.

Memorable Lines


There’s no hair on her vagina. Do you think she’s okay?


Something tells me it’s not going to suck itself, Hank.

So not only are you a cadavarous lay, you have bad
taste in movies.

Comments (5)

  1. Jon Delfin

    Or even, “You have *bad* taste in movies.” “Paid taste” is an interesting alternative, I grant.

  2. Bill Cunningham

    I have to give this series a shot, just from the amount of “controversy” it seems to have stirred up in the scribosphere. Some people like it, some hate it, and others don’t know what to make of it (or combinations of the above). A recommendation if ever I heard one.

  3. Anonymous

    I had no plans on watching this show, but the fact that you did a breakdown on it, and that Denis over at Dead Things on Sticks said it was good, convinced me to give it a shot. I wish I hadn’t.

    The show seemed wish fulfillment writ large to me. The writer peeved about a movie adaptation; been there. Beautiful women throwing themselves at him; seen that. A single novel (apparently) having made a fellow rich, respected, and loved; imagined that in my darker moments. Oh, the novelist is a tough guy and beats up “hispanic cell phone guy” in a theater too; be still my Chuck Norris loving heart.

    All taken together I’m left with the impression I’m reading some weird variety of Salman Rushdie fan fic.

    Since it’s only a half hour set up I’m trying to hold some goodwill for the show in reserve. But it’s difficult.

    Want my interest back in the show? Ramp up the conflict. Here some changes I’d consider.

    Have this be one of the movies where the movie was much better than the book, and have Duchovny’s character unable to write because he’s come face to face with the fact that he couldn’t honor his idea as well as the movie-makers. It’s shattered the ego he needed to make it as a novelist.

    Have Duchovny’s character desperate to get back to New York, where he can recapture the “good old days”, and ignore the ego smashing that the mere fact of residing in the city that is now the living embodiment of his lost confidence. Of course, however, he can’t go because his daughter’s here.

    Can’t believe that all these beautiful women are falling in bed with Duchovny left and right? Maybe they’re not. He could be delusional and it’s a lie. The first scene turned out to be a dream sequence, so there’s some precedent for rewriting his sexual experiences. Write it up so his “conquests” are, at least in large part, stories he’s telling his LA friends to keep up his feelings of self-worth.

    Give the guy some financial woes. One novel and one movie option rarely put anyone on easy street. Have this eat at him too. Duchovny sold out his book for the cash, thinking he’d be able to say “Man, look how the ruined it. At least I got paid.” And now, since the movie’s great, he’s concerned he was the hack AND he didn’t get paid enough.

    Add all that together and we have a writer with a bundle of neurosis that don’t seem bought at the character warehouse.

    I don’t have much to say about his ex, because she was pretty underdeveloped. It’s only the first episode, so I’ll let that slide.

    Same thing with the daughter, her character seemed a plot point more than anything else so far, so I don’t have much to say about her either.

    -same old Anonymous


    Would it be odd to say that I admire the craft of it but that it leaves me cold? Kind of like Anthony Minghella movies. He’s technically genius but somehow bereft of what I feel is honest and unmanipulated emotion. I feel like I will keep watching but probably won’t enjoy it.

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