Monday, August 13, 2007

David Duchovny, why don't I love you?

Today's column offers reviews of "Californication" (which is awful) and "Weeds" (where I continue to feel left out of the awesomeness that so many other critics see):

"Californication" (10:30 p.m., Showtime) is a comedy that pretends to be about one Hollywood cliché -- the serious writer who sells his soul to show business -- when it's a different one entirely: the aging star's massive ego trip.

In his first TV series since "The X-Files," David Duchovny plays Hank Moody, an author whose dour debut novel "God Hates Us All" was purchased for an obscene amount of money by a movie studio, which turned it unto an upbeat Tom-and-Katie-starring romantic comedy called "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Since then, Hank has suffered a crippling case of writer's block -- "I can't produce so much as a (gosh-darn) predicate," he complains -- compounded by the realization that he was an idiot to walk out on longtime girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone) and their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin, far better than the show deserves).

Before you go and throw a pity party for poor Hank, know that he's found a unique way to suffer for his sins: by having cheap, meaningless sex with every surgically-enhanced L.A. woman who'll have him. Judging by the pilot episode's frequent nude scenes (which resemble outtakes from Duchovny's last Showtime series, the softcore anthology "Red Shoe Diaries"), it's a long list. Added to it is Mia, who takes Hank to bed after a meet-cute in a bookstore and spices up their fun, sexy time by repeatedly punching him in the face.

On "Weeds":
"Californication" debuts immediately after the return of "Weeds" (10 p.m., Showtime), which three seasons in remains a show I want to like much more than I do. It has so much going for it on paper -- notably Mary-Louise Parker as a pot-dealing soccer mom -- but the series' creators remain so pleased with themselves that they're rarely as funny as they obviously think they are.
To read the full thing, click here. (Printer-friendly.)

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a shocker. Alan bitches about two more high quality cable shows that almost all other critics seem to be reviewing favorably. Including Entourage, Big Love, Rescue Me, and Damages, is there a cable show you actually like? Does it take reviewing a show (Freaks and Geeks) that went off the air over 7 years ago to actually have you not bitch about a show? The one cable show you actually seemed to slightly enjoy (John from Cincinnati) was wretched beyond belief. Can't wait for The Wire to finally come back, so I don't have to hear you complain.

ooda said...

Personally I really liked Californication, and enjoyed the pilot more than the first four episodes of the third season of Weeds. I love how Hank constantly whines and mumbles, and was laughing like crazy during that one bedroom scene. The weird thing is that when the twist was revealed, watching the episode again it was actually believable.

Only problem was that I wish the Larry Sander's DVDs had sold better so I could rewatch the Basic Instinct scene from the finale (I didn't really watch the X-Files, so that and Evolution is what I know Duchovny from).

Vman said...

I don't usually comment, but you're way off on Californication, it's a great show and it's pretty much impossible not to like it, and all the other critics have noticed the charms of the show. It's much more than a cliche, it's good, plain and simple. Weeds is another great show and it's pretty much hard to hate, it's got comedy, drama, satire, everything you could want and Mary Louise Parker does an incredible job infusing the premise with humanity. I still cannot comprehend the negative Californication review, I'm with you on Entourage unlike the first commenter but I have to agree with his sentiments about the wire, give the Californication bashing a rest.

Diana said...

I enjoyed both, but I'm getting worried about Weeds' constant need to one-up itself with cliffhangers. And the way they get themselves out of last season's cliffhanger could not be cheaper in my opinion.

I blogged reviews of both shows at http://www.mediaobsessed.com

Alan Sepinwall said...

What a shocker. Alan bitches about two more high quality cable shows that almost all other critics seem to be reviewing favorably. Including Entourage, Big Love, Rescue Me, and Damages, is there a cable show you actually like? Does it take reviewing a show (Freaks and Geeks) that went off the air over 7 years ago to actually have you not bitch about a show? The one cable show you actually seemed to slightly enjoy (John from Cincinnati) was wretched beyond belief. Can't wait for The Wire to finally come back, so I don't have to hear you complain.

Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that I was obligated to be in lockstep with every other critic in the country. I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that I was supposed to express my own opinions about things. Apparently not.

Also, I had no idea that I had to be uniformly positive about every show ever made -- at least for cable -- or else I would anger people. Thank you so much for setting me straight, anonymous poster. You've given me new hope and a new vision for my career. Time to go off and read a few dozen other reviews so I can parrot them! Woo-hoo!

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't usually comment, but you're way off on Californication, it's a great show and it's pretty much impossible not to like it,

And yet I didn't. Much like the Madeline Zima character, I was gripped throughout with a desire to punch Hank in the face.

Weeds is another great show and it's pretty much hard to hate,

Don't hate it. I'm apathetic towards it. There's a difference.

curious george said...

Who knew Alan was a Bree Sharp fan? ;)

Anonymous said...

How many episodes of Californication have you seen, Alan? I saw the pilot and actually liked it. But I do agree with some of your criticisms and can see that the show might not work if future episodes don't show another side to Hank and only have him sleeping with hotties.

I also don't totally disagree with your thoughts on Weeds. I like the show, but I've never found it to be amazing. The suburban drug dealing mom seems like an idea rife with possibilities, but Weeds always seems to just miss the mark for me. However, I've only seen the show on DVD, so I think I've been willing to overlook some of its less satisfying bits because I'm able to watch the episodes in marathons. If I watched a half hour every week I might not like it as much as I do.

And I actually LOVE the fact that you're critical of so many of the recent cable series. Rescue Me has been unwatchable this season (talk about vanity projects) and Damages is a complete case of the Emperor having no clothes. It's got a great pedigree, but there's no "there" there.

curious george said...

the series' creators remain so pleased with themselves that they're rarely as funny as they obviously think they are.

By the way, this is an excellent point. I like Weeds, but I definitely see this point. Weeds is good and entertaining, but it's not great television. It's just merely good. The problem is, most television, cable or no, is so freaking bad that merely good shows get praised as great shows.

The question: Do the Weeds creators think they are as funny as Leary/Tolan and Rhimes think they are clever?

Anonymous said...

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that I was obligated to be in lockstep with every other critic in the country. I was under the (apparently mistaken) impression that I was supposed to express my own opinions about things. Apparently not.

Also, I had no idea that I had to be uniformly positive about every show ever made -- at least for cable -- or else I would anger people. Thank you so much for setting me straight, anonymous poster. You've given me new hope and a new vision for my career. Time to go off and read a few dozen other reviews so I can parrot them! Woo-hoo!"


Alan, I apologize if I meant that you should be in lockstep with every other critic in the country. But I put you in the pantheon of critics with Roush, Goodman, and Bianco who write thoughtful, analytical pieces on television. You are the 4 critics whose opinions I value more than any others. Recently however, I find myself predicting the rote response of bitching about the next highly anticipated cable show that you will have. Meanwhile, I can get the same level of criticism and appropriate sarcasm from Roush or Goodman without the predictable negative response. I'm not telling you how to feel about a particular show, but I know I have a certain level of excitement when a new cable show starts that at least deserves a mildly positive response (i.e. Damages, Big Love, Weeds), and I know I'm going to get the exact same review from you every time. And it's frustrating to see you devote your only mildly positive review for drivel like JFC (which, btw, Roush, Goodman, and Bianco abhorred). Btw, I don't believe all cable shows are created equal. Something like Nip/Tuck or Saving Grace is glorified crap.

Devin McCullen said...

I've actually listened to the whole Bree Sharp CD, and I like it a lot. Whenever I'm cat-sitting for my friends who own it, I put it on. "Cheap and Evil Girl" is probably my favorite song after the Duchovny one.

Anonymous, you're overlooking Mad Men.

James Poniewozik said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter. After I posted my review of Californication and began to read the other, more positive reviews, I began to wonder if I must be blind, so I was glad to read Alan's. Sometimes when that's happened, I've changed my mind after further episodes (e.g., Firefly, which I was disappointed with after the botched pilot); other times the series pretty much bore me out (Studio 60, or, to take a positive example, 30 Rock).

Regardless, I can't deputize myself to speak on behalf of "every critic in the country," but if Alan were craven enough to modify his opinions to make sure he wasn't out of the critical mainstream, he would not be worth anyone's time to read. Alan clearly loves TV, knows his business, substantiates his opinions and has the balls to stick by them. (Oh, and where was his knee-jerk scorn for Flight of the Conchords?)

By the way, I've met Alan a total of once, and that briefly, so this isn't me standing up for a buddy. But I had to put in a word for a critic I enjoy reading even--sometimes especially--when I disagree with him.

curious george said...

Actually, our anonymous is also overlooking Alan's positive comments for "Flight of the Conchords." And Jekyll.

Anonymous said...

You're right, I did forget Alan's mention of Mad Men and Flight of the Conchords (both of which I like, but don't love).

Alan Sepinwall said...

Mood better now. Less grouchy. Sorry for snapping. Will use complete sentences soon.

Anyway, to expand on a few things:

1)Cable shows I've praised this summer besides John From Cincy include Mad Men, Flight of the Conchords (which I'm oddly in love with), Jekyll, Doctor Who (review of Friday's episode coming later today), My Boys, Saving Grace (though the flaws on that one are becoming more glaring) and The Kill Point (haven't seen the latest episode yet). I've also had mixed things to say about Big Love and Weeds and The Bronx Is Burning, and have even praised some isolated moments on Rescue Me (which is in the midst of a terrible season overall).

2)While I'm flattered to be put in the same company with Tim and Robert and Matt, it's just not possible for our opinions to always intersect (Robert considers me a philistine for not loving Boomtown, for instance, but we've gotten past that), nor for my enthusiasm to always match the buzz level for a show. I really, really wanted to like Damages, for instance, and was even probably kinder in the initial review than I should have been. My opinion is what it is. I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam.

SJ said...

Alan, I'm with you (though I'm loving Big Love a lot!). Californication is trying to be edgy just for the sake of it. It's nothing new, nothing hilarious, or nothing special. Just adding a lot of nude women doesn't make it a good show...then there's the "oh my ex-wife is marrying the wrong person", "I'm going to get high all the time and sleep with anyone", "I've got a rebellious daughter", blah blah.

Weeds is pretty good, though not as good as everybody says it is.

Anonymous said...

Alan, didn't mean to get on your bad side earlier. I am glad to read your more measured response. I know you've had some positive reviews (esp. for Mad Men). As I said earlier, you are one of my go-to guys along with Robert (who bothers me for not liking The Shield), Matt (who inexplicably gives the benefit of the doubt to Grey's Anatomy), and Tim (who I generally agree with down the line). I just wished you shared my enthusiasm (as well as the aforementioned critics) for some of these summer cable shows (i.e. Damages, Weeds, Big Love, Californication). I guess all I have to look forward to among upcoming shows is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dexter, and Tell Me You Love Me, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I haven't seen Brotherhood.

Grim said...

I for one am kind of thankful to read someone who took a similar dislike to Californication as me.

I often disagree with your opinions Alan, notably in that i liked Studio 60, but I think you are spot on here. It is one thing to have an unlikeable protagonist, it is another to have one that is so completely smug and charmless. I thought it was an overwrought, overwritten mess of a show (the writer's previous efforts include a spell as producer on Dawson's Creek and the heavy-handed verbosity has been brought along) that had few redeeming features.

On the other hand I do like Weeds. It isn't a particularly funny show, but it is one I do enjoy quite a bit.

Nicole said...

While I usually share your taste in programs, I enjoyed the pilot of Californication, at least enough to want to see the next program. And Weeds, while it had strong first and second seasons, seems a little tired in the four episodes I have seen. It's not horrible, but it does feel like it's trying to hard to create conflict.

Disagreement is always a good thing, at least until you start praising Two and a Half Men, then I will have to cut you.

Crystal said...

I personally enjoy "Guttermouth" from the Bree Sharp album as much as "Cheap and Evil Girl." A fun listen all around.

Dark Tyler said...

Disagreement is always a good thing

Indeed! And at least Alan wasn't screaming "Good Riddance, Californication!" while demanding from Showtime to cancel it and insulting the people who like it.

jim treacher said...

After Full Frontal, I really don't need to see Duchovny naked ever again.

"Can't wait for The Wire to finally come back, so I don't have to hear you complain."

Who's forcing you?

Anonymous said...

treacher, I'm forcing me. It's not like I don't want to read Alan. I thought I stated that earlier.

jim treacher said...

"It's not like I don't want to read Alan."

You just don't want him to disagree with you too much.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

I'm always a little thrilled when Alan takes down a new show that's getting a lot of praise, even when it's one I, personally, like (Big Love is a great example). His criticisms are always focused and well thought out, and they always prompt me to consider my own opinions (and often force me to rebolster my arguments for or against certain shows). It's also nice to see when someone dislikes a show I also dislike (Damages or Californication) for much the same reasons, but that's purely selfish.

We're in a time when there's probably more good television on than at any time in the history of the medium. A critic's job isn't just to pick on the really bad stuff, but to separate the good from the mediocre and the great from the good. I read this blog because its author is good at all of those things and justifying his thoughts, again, even when I disagree with him.

There's still an attitude among a lot of TV critics/reporters and viewers that, "Oh well. It's good enough for TV" is good enough. I don't really think that works. We've seen The Wire and Deadwood and The Sopranos now. "Just good enough" is a relic from the time when The Cosby Show was legitimately one of the best things on (and I liked that show). We've seen better, now, so we know we can demand better.

Sorry if this seems like gushing. I've learned a lot, reading this site.

filmcricket said...

Poor Duchovny. Back when he was talking about leaving X-Files, he said people kept bringing up David Caruso's post-NYPD Blue career to him, and he wondered why the example was always Caruso and not, say Clooney. Perhaps because Clooney seems like a fairly likeable person while you, David, come off as a Caruso-style schmuck? Just a thought.

I don't even know if these are being shown in Canada; if they were and I got the appropriate channel, I might have tuned in to Californication out of residual X-Files/Larry Sanders love. I abominate Mary Louise Parker, though, so I expect I'd have given Weeds a miss regardless.

j said...

I want to know who Anonymous is reading. The Variety, LA Times and NY Times reviews of Californication are negative. Care to elaborate?

ooda said...

Even though I do like Californication, I was dismayed to see a round up of reviews on Ain't It Cool that most reviews were negative (in the lower quartile at that).

Hunter13 said...

Hmm, even though I often agree with you Alan, I certainly don't share your opinion about Californication. Yes, it's trashy, but (IMHO) in a good way. I laughed more while watching this pilot than I did during all seasons combined of Entourage, and there's little doubt in my mind that this show will turn out a lot better than that has-been show.

Dark Tyler said...

j:

Well, in fairness it does have a 74 ouf of 100 in metacritic, which was even higher before Alan and NYT joined in yesterday.

Don't be too hard on the guy. After all, Matt Roush's analytical analysis thoughtfully liked it, or something. :P

Anonymous said...

"I want to know who Anonymous is reading. The Variety, LA Times and NY Times reviews of Californication are negative. Care to elaborate?"

j, as I mentioned before, I pretty much only read reviews of the 4 critics I mentioned.


"Don't be too hard on the guy. After all, Matt Roush's analytical analysis thoughtfully liked it, or something. :P"

Dark Tyler, I appreciate the sarcasm.

Dark Tyler said...

I'm sorry man, this wasn't about you.

TuckPendleton said...

Alan --

Don't know why you're apologizing to people like Anonymous. It's your blog, you write whatever the hell you want, no one's forcing this person to come in here. I'm glad you snapped at him/her -- it was deserved. Please don't backtrack on your comments for trolls like these.

Re: Californication...I wonder if part of the reason they are introducing him as 'likeable' is so they can take him down many more notches later on. To introduce him as a total cad, would a) probably turn off a lot of viewers from the get-go, and b) only leave them one place to take the character.

By starting in the middle -- we see the good and bad of him -- at least , in theory, it gives the show more room to play in. I'll stick around for a few more eps.

Anonymous said...

"Don't know why you're apologizing to people like Anonymous. It's your blog, you write whatever the hell you want, no one's forcing this person to come in here. I'm glad you snapped at him/her -- it was deserved. Please don't backtrack on your comments for trolls like these."

Tuck, thanks for calling me a troll. I didn't realize after my initial e-mail (which I'll admit was a little harsh) that I was troll-like. I thought I had explained myself along the way, and appreciated Alan's later response. Sorry to disappoint you.

TuckPendleton said...

Anon-

You're very welcome.

BTW, if you hurry to Amazon, you might be able to get some of those Walker, Texas Ranger DVDs before they sell out. I'm sure that will help you get all the memories of "John From Cincinnati" out of your head.

Anonymous said...

"BTW, if you hurry to Amazon, you might be able to get some of those Walker, Texas Ranger DVDs before they sell out. I'm sure that will help you get all the memories of "John From Cincinnati" out of your head."

Tuck, I love that you think I have such pathetic taste in TV. I didn't realize that if I didn't appreciate JFC, I need to turn immediately to Walker. I didn't realize the fact that I loved The Wire, The Shield, Big Love, Damages, etc. means that I don't have an appreciation for quality television.

Kiana said...

I'm also glad that one critic disliked "Californication". I couldn't get through the pilot - the scene with Duchovny asleep on the couch, and his wife and daughter looking at him lovingly, killed it for me. Well, that and the opening scene, which (as someone above stated) was nowhere near as edgy as it thought it was.

But I'm also glad that there's so many new shows to watch, that aren't adhering to the tired tropes of the Big Three (Four? Five?). Not all of them are going to be great, but it's still better than reality television, night-time soaps, or yet another cop show. (Unless David Milch is writing is, which might force me to tune in.)

Back on topic: thanks for this review, Alan. I was beginning to wonder if I were the only person who was thoroughly unimpressed by this show.

Anonymous said...

What's Alan watching? Um, who's Alan? And who cares?