Sunday, June 15, 2008

Storywh0re's Father's Day Special (with spoiler warnings)

Sorry for the long absence! I've been busy moving.

I want to hop back in the saddle by posting about fathers in popular culture. I could easily write about Ray Barone (a.k.a. Ray Romano), who's disinterest and incompetence with his own family is an exhausted cliché; or about Alias's Jack Bristow, who's love for his daughter Sydney sometimes led him to do dark deeds to protect her. However, I'd rather write about the two more recent examples--Indiana Jones and Hank Moody.

As you may already know, whether you saw Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or not, the grizzled archaeologist learns in it that he has an adult son. The young man's mother is Marion Ravenwood, Indy's romantic interest from Raiders of the Lost Ark—and, all of the sudden, his one true love. Indy and Marion had allegedly been engaged, until he ran out on her. I found the wedding at the end implausible, even though I know it's supposed to make the audience happy. First of all, Indy never struck me as the marrying type. Nor was I ever satisfied as to why neither of them had ever contacted the other, especially with the doe-eyes that the reunited lovers exchange. I just wasn't convinced that they could pick up where they left off so easily.

I found Crystal Skull to be a lukewarm conclusion to the franchise anyway. The best part was a breathlessly funny gag with a snake. If I were to rank the Indiana Jones movies, I'd put this one above only Temple of Doom. The alien origins of the plot seem like a non-sequitur for the series, best suited to pave the way for next month's X-Files movie.

Which leads me to my favorite recent discovery. Inspired by chatter on LiveJournal, I watched Season 1 of the Showtime series Californication, just to catch up with David Duchovny.

I was blown away.

Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a novelist living in Los Angeles. As the story begins, he has had writer's block for several years, and is forced to accept a job blogging—which he disdains. His breakaway novel has been made into a bad romantic comedy. Most importantly, Karen, his long-time live-in girlfriend, has left him with their fourteen-year-old daughter in tow, for a man more willing to marry her. Missing his family desperately, Hank is the definition of dissolute, losing himself in alcohol and casual sex.

First off, let me be clear: this is cable television. There is simulated sex of various kinds, mild violence, drug use, and—somehow the most jarring to me—vomiting. However, if you're okay with that, and already have a taste for mini-movies such as Six Feet Under and The Sopranos, you are likely to consider this another rare example of what scripted television should be. It is by turns hilarious, suspenseful, and heart-wrenching.

One could argue that the characters in Californication think and talk more about sex than people really do. At the same time, it feels a lot closer to real life than the umpteenth new show revolving around serial killers. In a lot of ways, this is a story about families, as Hank, his agent and his wife, and Karen's new family all navigate the complexity of modern life and field major transitions. No one is completely blameless or unsympathetic. My biggest objection is that casual cocaine use is depicted without consequence, which I do not believe is typical.

I must admit, the show has made David Duchovny hot to me again. (Perhaps I prefer his scruffy Hank to his polished “FBI Agent” look.) I always thought he was a better writer and director than an actor, but he has come a long way since The X-Files, and plays a far more demanding role here .

The plot takes a few delicious twists along the way, and the central tension of the main season is resolved in the last episode. This could be both good and bad. (It keeps things fresh, but forces the show to explore other conflicts.) Either way, I plan to catch Season 2, which airs later this summer, if only on iTunes or Netflix.

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