This essay contains spoilers.
The Showtime network seems to think that there aren’t enough shows about people who drink themselves into a stupor. Makes sense that Californication and Shameless are hyped as a package deal, debuting at the same time.
I caught the season premiere of both shows during Showtime’s free preview week. I recently canceled my Showtime subscription, as I do every year after Dexter ends. Not much else on that channel interests me enough to pay ten to twenty dollars a month. I can get generic Hollywood movies with my HBO subscription and they usually have a great selection of documentaries to boot.
I’m not sure if Showtime sold me on these shows. Probably not.
I’ve seen the previous three seasons of Californication and have generally enjoyed them. It’s a fun show, what with its crass humor and sex. But I’ve hit a wall with this fourth season debut. At the end of the last season, Hank Moody ended up fucking things up pretty bad, once again losing his longtime girlfriend/mother of his child, Karen. The on again, off again relationship is becoming a little tiring, especially since I believe a heavy drinker really can’t deal with his relationship problems, or any other problems, for that matter, if he doesn’t first deal with the fact that he’s a drunk. The drinking will always get in the way of solving other life problems. It’s what you’ll hear in rehab or AA right off. Because it’s true. Being a drunk myself, thankfully one who hasn’t had very much to drink for months, I understand this Hank Moody chap perhaps more than I’d like to admit. Because this quitting drinking thing applies to myself if it applies to anyone. Nevertheless, having been and been around drunks for more than half my life, I think I have a fairly good grasp on the lifestyle. Look, I’m not a preacher. I’m just being realistic. The drunk is without paranoia or shame. The drunk thrives on chaos. The drunk will eventually severely fuck over someone he cares about. Eliminate the drinking and you don’t eliminate the problems, but you are at least able to think clearly about them.
The fourth season of Californication opens with Hank Moody once again leaving a jailhouse. What’s the first thing he does once he’s outside? He takes a swig of booze, provided by his agent/sidekick Charlie Runkle. Sigh. Will the show’s writers continue to treat Hank’s drinking as an afterthought? Maybe. Because the world of Californication is already quite fantastically unlike the world that we inhabit. It looks the same, but doesn’t quite taste the same. Remember that Hank Moody is a writer living in LA (a novelist no less) who is respected for his talent, gets plenty of groupie sex and is treated like royalty by movie studios. Would that I lived in a world where writers lived like moviestars. But, alas. I guess this fantastic world also includes booze that doesn’t have any physical side effects. What’s up with these middle-aged boozers on film and television never having any serious health concerns because of their drinking? No giant belly, no diabetes or liver problems. Booze isn’t a glamorous addiction. It really fucks your health up. By middle-age, if you’ve been drinking heavily for as long as Hank Moody has, a little facial stubble will be the least of your problems.
Despite all my complaints, Californication has been a fun show and I doubt it will lose any of its humor this season. It’s the kind of show that really appeals to the devil-may-care, middle-finger-to-the-world kind of recklessness that a drunk like myself can appreciate.
While I might be mildly curious to see how Californication’s season four develops, there’s really very little in the debut episode of Shameless that I cared for. The writers seem to have cobbled together as many working-class clichés that happened to pop into their heads, given them names, called them characters, and considered their work done. You’ve got the interracial baby, the cute girl who works two jobs and acts as surrogate mother to the rest of the family (from now on I’ll just call her Responsible Girl) and there’s a couple younger kids that are pretty hard to distinguish. One of the kids is a wisecracking girl who steals money from charity. And then there’s the two brothers who are close to each other in age, mid teens or so. One is a brainy kid and the other is all about joining the military and other manly stuff but is (oh irony!) actually a closeted homosexual. And what white working-class ensemble would be complete without the incontinent drunk of a father who’s been collecting disability even though he’s perfectly healthy (barring the fact that he’s a sloppy drunk)? We see him either drunk and passed out on the floor or in the process of getting drunk so that he can pass out on the floor. William H. Macy plays the guy and even his acting abilities can’t help what is basically a flat, uninteresting role. By the way, does anyone know where this show takes place? I didn’t catch it. Someplace with snow. And a dance club. Hmmm….
The one character that I found fairly interesting was the guy who eventually becomes Responsible Girl’s boyfriend. I didn’t catch his name and I guess it doesn’t really matter, because he’s not so interesting that he’s going to keep me coming back to the show in the following weeks.
There’s actually a bit of mystery to the guy, some genuine character development. We start out thinking that he’s just a wealthy Yuppie type that’s interested in Responsible Girl because she’s authentic or something. Salt of the earth, that kind of thing. Initially, Responsible Girl rejects the guy’s advances. As we would expect. But we know they’ll get together by the end of the episode. The gratuitous sex they have on her kitchen floor while the kids sleep upstairs and her dad is drinking himself stupid at some bar somewhere is a good indication. But anyway, it takes more than sex to win Responsible Girl’s heart. She’s not convinced that Yuppie boy is genuinely interested in her. Good instincts, actually. Never trust a Yuppie. They wear funny sweaters and drink stupid booze. But, not to worry, right? Because it turns out the guy’s not actually a Yuppie. He makes his loot from stealing expensive cars. Now this Responsible Girl likes. Drive her around in a stolen car and you’ve won her heart. I think that the boyfriend, if properly developed, might be used to explore some interesting questions about the relationship between poverty and crime. Probably not, but maybe. But probably not.
So I suppose I’ll probably wait until the next season of Dexter before I re-subscribe to Showtime. Being a writer, a drunk, and working-class myself, I have enough of my own problems to worry about. My life is like an episode of Californication; that is, if Hank Moody was a lot less famous, worked at a supermarket deli and was actually trying to curb his booze consumption. And, well, as the old song goes, ain’t nothing like the real thing.