Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 18, 2009


Filed under: television — louisproyect @ 5:10 pm

The Showtime series Californication has a fairly well-worn plot: Hollywood versus the writer. From the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink to Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, we are used to watching the writer as anti-hero writhing in a spider’s web woven by mammon-worshipping production studios.

Hank Moody is a one-hit wonder. After his sardonic and sexually explicit novel God Hates Us All has been turned into a crappy but commercially successful movie titled A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, he moves out to Hollywood with his girlfriend and their teen-age daughter. Once there, he discovers that he can no longer write and spends all his time cheating on his wife and boozing until she finally throws him out. Played by David Duchovny, Hank Moody is a charming lout of the kind once played by Clark Gable or Errol Flynn. Oddly enough, Duchovny is also playing the same character he played in X-Files, despite all the sexual escapades in Californication. Like Mulder, Hank Moody has a bemused and boyishly self-deprecating manner that he deploys to great advantage-except in this go-round it is in encounters with Hollywood nymphettes rather than with space aliens.

In addition to the trapped-in-Hollywood genres alluded to above, Californication is strongly influenced by Sex in the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm, two of the flagship series on HBO, the rival premium cable network. From Sex in the City it derives the envelop-pushing sexual explicitness. For instance, in season one (now available from Netflix) Hank wanders into a church in search of the spiritual counseling he so sorely requires, only to be met by a nun who convinces him that he really needs a blow job that she proceeds to deliver. Even though this was only a dream sequence, it was enough to rouse Christian fundamentalist groups into action.

Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show relies heavily on the interaction between a writer and his agent. Played by Sex in the City regular Evan Handler, Charlie Runkle is Jeff Green to Moody’s Larry David. Much of the show is devoted to the two discussing Moody’s writer’s block and various screw-ups as father and lover. Like Larry David, most of Moody’s woes are self-generated. While Curb Your Enthusiasm relied heavily on improvisation between the cast’s characters (most of whom had a long background in comedy club improv acts), the writing in Californication is thoroughly scripted and thoroughly good.

It should be mentioned that Duchovny, who is an executive producer of the show, is much more literate than the average actor. A wiki article on him points out:

He also holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from Yale University and began work on a Ph.D. that remains unfinished. The title of his uncompleted doctoral thesis was Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose… In 1982, while at Princeton, his poetry received an honorable mention for a college prize from the Academy of American Poets and the title of his senior thesis was The Schizophrenic Critique of Pure Reason in Beckett’s Early Novels.

Evan Handler is an interesting character as well. Although his background is exclusively that of an actor and all the superficiality that entails, he had a brush with death that left him a bit more sensitive to deeper spiritual and philosophical questions than his peers. When he was 24, he developed leukemia that he survived successfully although the chemotherapy left him permanently bald. He makes a point of never using a toupee. His memoir Time on Fire, which is based on his one-character stage play, is uncommonly insightful. Here’s Handler being interviewed by the very funny cable TV host Chelsea Handler (they’re not related) about his latest book:

Just as I began working on this review, I strolled over to a co-worker to ask some grammatical advice. When he discovered that I liked Californication as well as Sex in the City, he was genuinely surprised. What would an unrepentant Marxist get out of shows such as these? The answer was simple. Entertainment. In an age when Hollywood movies no longer provide the kind of escapist pleasure that a Fred Astaire musical once did, you have turn to cable TV to get your mind off of financial crisis, imperialist war and environmental devastation. If you are like-minded, then I can recommend Californication.


  1. I watched X-files a couple of times and I didn’t like way it dangles between faith and rationality. Although it seems bring an explanatory balance of natural and supernatural, nature prevails in the last instance but only in a way to rationalize the belief. On the other hand, last night I watched the whole season 3 of Supernatural, contrary to X-files, it acknowledges the old joke about a psychotic patient who is eaten by the crocodile that he sees under his bed: If you see a crocodile under your bed, it will eventually eat you unless you realize there is no rational way to deal with it.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — February 18, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

  2. Sorry, Mehmet, but I don’t see the connection. The post says that escapist movies, decently put together, are a good thing in themselves, like a game of cards, romp in the hay or a double portion of Turkish delight. You were obviously not after that kind of pleasure when you analysed X-Files or season 3 of Supernatural, whatever that is.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 18, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  3. Hello Peter, of course there is no connection. Louis is an unrepentant Marxist who escapes from the suffocating daily reality by taking small pleasures in watching TV series, however, my position is totally different, as being deprived of proper symbolic attachment for a while, daily reality for me consists of escapism itself. Therefore, every modest activity which serves for dispelling the depressive monotony of hard day’s is experienced in my position as a genuine activity that prevents to be caught up by reality.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — February 18, 2009 @ 8:51 pm

  4. Enough! Hank has become the Sam Walton of metaphores from the booze etc… He fucks all the 30/40 something women with relationship regrets. Nerds rejoice-they should have chose you in high school!! Give us some slightly more complex action or resort to pure cum shots. At least Dexter fucks mature psycopaths. Hank – a teenage prospect. How about some so-knowns visit the university and begin to lift the vail. Walk a spiratual path and fuck a nun or something. Please.

    Comment by J Haas — October 20, 2009 @ 11:15 pm

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