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‘Californication’: A scandalous return, much to our delight

From The LA Times:

In some ways, it’s difficult to tell who is more sex obsessed: David Duchovny, or the rest of us.

The 48-year-old actor issued a statement in August, saying through his lawyer that he’d voluntarily entered a facility for the treatment of sex addiction, and asked for “respect and privacy” as he and his family dealt with the issue. Then again, you already know this by now, because we in the media (and, admit it, you at home) bypassed the whole respecting-his-privacy bit and ran with this story like dogs with a bone.

It was too easy, after all. Duchovny had by this time gained much notoriety –- and a Golden Globe -– for his portrayal of Hank Moody in “Californication,” the Showtime series about a writer who happens to have lots and lots … and lots … of sex. And so it came to be, all of us thinking about it, talking about it, sending it to each other via texts and e-mails that read something to the effect of, “Have you heard!?” The phrase “life imitates art” shot out of us like a tick. News features asking, “What is sex addiction?” followed.

But perhaps herein lies the beating heart of “Californication,” the reason why it stands a real chance of sticking around for a very long time -– that is, if Duchovny is in fact willing and able to return. That reason –- however obvious or ludicrous as it may sound –- is that we’re the ones who should admit that we can’t get enough.

After all, how better to explain the obsessive, non-work-related media coverage that has at one time or another plagued the likes of a Hugh Grant or a Jude Law? (I’d mention their offenses, but something tells me you already know them.)

And we ate up “Sex and the City” for six seasons, didn’t we? And “Gossip Girl” seems to be doing OK. And “Melrose Place” hung around for what seemed like forever. Call me crazy, but when I think of those shows, I think sex. (Ok, I haven’t actually seen “Gossip Girl,” but the advertisements I keep seeing around town -– the ones with the girl looking quite pleased alongside the letters “OMFG” — well, I think I know what they’re trying to sell me.)

Meanwhile, here in L.A., a man named Tom Kapinos has sat back in amusement for the last year, curious by all the fuss that has followed “Californication,” the show he created. The project really began as nothing more than an act of Dawson-cleansing, if you will, and to explain that we should delve into the Kapinos backstory.

Originally from Long Island, he dropped out of film school at NYU and moved to Los Angeles in 1996 to pursue dreams both big and small: He wanted to be a screenwriter, and he also really, really wanted to work at the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard.

Ironically enough, he wasn’t good enough for Tower –- the store took his resume but never called. He was, however, good enough for the almighty Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which gave him a job as a script reader. He eventually wrote a spec of his own, got it sold (but never made), and soon after that found himself in the writer’s room of “Dawson’s Creek,” where the big question loomed: Should Joey end up with Dawson or Pacey?

” ‘Dawson’s Creek’ was misery at every turn,” he remembers. “It was all about the sanctity of friendship and all just kind of (crap). … Within two years I was running the show, and I was making a lot of money and learning how to run a TV show, but it was miserable.”

When he closed the book on Dawson is when he opened it up for Hank Moody. Why? Because he kept getting offers to do more teen dramas, which was the last thing he wanted to do, and so he turned out “Californication” as a feature-length script to show people a different side of him and his writing. His wife (yes, he’s married, and with kids) persuaded him to turn the feature into a TV pilot, and soon after, Showtime and Duchovny were interested, and then the pilot aired, and then the people talked, mostly about the sex –- Have you seen what Agent Mulder’s up to now?

“My parents are very proud of my success, but they probably wish it was with something more palatable,” Kapinos says. “My mom’s a librarian on Long Island.”

The reviews that have followed “Californication” all seem to fall into the love or loathe category, rarely anything in between. “People who hate it really hate it,” he says, and vice versa. “Quite frankly, I’d rather have those two extremes than, say, ‘Yeah, I watched it, it was fine, but it didn’t have much of an impact on me.’ ”

But what people seem to be missing, he says, is that the sex on his show is there more for comedic effect than for plot. And yes, it does come often and casually, but where many a critic has pointed to that as a flaw, Kapinos says it’s exactly the point.

“One of my goals with the show was to treat sex between consenting adults as matter of fact,” he says. “Because I look around this city and I see a lot of people hooking up and having sex. Sometimes they love each other, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it means something, sometimes they’re just passing the time.

” ‘Californication’ is a show about a guy who’s trying to find the proper balance between decadence and responsibility. I know it makes a good headline, but the show is not about sex.”

Nor is Hank Moody, he says, a sex addict. “He’s not addicted to sex any more than he’s addicted to cigarettes or booze. Sex just happens to be one of the many vices he’ll indulge in if it happens to come his way.”

And indeed, it comes his way often. In the first season, while unsuccessfully trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, Moody found sex at nearly every other turn, but interestingly enough it was the woman who nearly always initiated the act. That trend continued Sunday night –- Moody was propositioned multiple times but was always forced to decline.

For one thing, he’s got the girl now, having finally won over his ex in last season’s finale. And two, well, he’d just had a vasectomy. Both of those facts made us cringe -– we’re just not used to seeing Happy Hank, or Relationship Hank, or Icing-Down-The-Genitals Hank, but thankfully for us “Californication” fans, he still got himself into plenty of trouble on Sunday, and how this Hank-Karen storyline plays out should be an interesting and fun thing to see.

“I like the thought of having them in this happy place and then leaving them to explore what that means,” Kapinos says about the current season. “A lot of movies end in happy endings and I’ve always thought it’s kind of (bull). We never see the next morning and dealing with that happy ending. If you get what you want, what do you ultimately do with it?”

Hank, it would seem, is bound to let it somehow unravel. And as we did on Sunday night, we will sometimes cringe and sometimes laugh, but rarely have it in us to actually look away. Duchovny as Hank is just too good, too charming, too fun -– so much so that it’s practically impossible to imagine any other actor actually being able to pull this off. And, selfishly, that makes Duchovny’s off-screen problems all the more concerning for us viewers on two different fronts: For one, watching Hank the character and falling into the reality of the storyline is sometimes difficult when many of the scenes now so easily remind us of Duchovny’s personal issues. And related to that, those off-screen issues may make it difficult for him to actually return to the show, given what so often happens on screen.

As for the latter, Kapinos says that in the limited conversation he’s shared with Duchovny since the news broke, the actor hasn’t expressed any indication of not wanting to return. “We’ve been in touch -– not so much right now because he’s deep in the middle of some kind of treatment. But we talked via e-mail when it first went down and he sounded good, sounded like he was on the road to being a happier and healthier person.”

Nevertheless, some people are bound to continue to dwell on just the sex, but “Californication” does in fact have other things going for it, like the heartfelt dialogue between its characters and a sometimes too-honest protagonist.

“Have you been drinking, sir?” a police officer asked an at-the-wheel Hank in Sunday night’s episode. “Hours ago,” he said. “But not to excess. I don’t do that anymore. I mean I do, but not nearly as often as I used to.”

“Have you been smoking marijuana, sir?” the cop later pressed, to which Hank replied, “One hit. One!”

It’s moments like those that make us want to follow Hank Moody wherever he goes. As for how audiences might be affected by the off-screen troubles of David Duchovny, well, “To be honest, they might be more intrigued,” Kapinos says. “Everyone loves a scandal.”

Yes, yes we do.

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