Thanks to a free month-long trial subscription to Netflix, I have now watched the entire 5 seasons of Weeds, and season 1 of Californication.
I found this dramatic interlude highly enjoyable. And it got me thinking about the extreme stakes narrative trend that both shows utilize. While both shows are naturalistic, in emotion and character, they flirt with the surreal in their constant crazy heightening of unrealistic stakes and plot. While I personally have never hurled myself out of an airplane, or “gotten air” on skis, sure, I can see the appeal. Likewise, there is a distinct thrill of watching Nancy Botwin (Mary-Lousie Parker) of Weeds decide, upon finding herself confronted with a threatening drug dealer, that a quickie with him by her car is too irresistible to pass up. After a few seasons of Weeds, I found myself thinking, just how far can this possibly go? And go they have, while maintaining just a thread of believability, or at least they are maintaing the suspension of disbelief.
Similarly, Californication has the same surrealistic realism that makes the show both unbelievably enjoyable as in, enjoyable and only barely realistic (LA is like that, but also not like that), but the writers and actors have taken it one step further. David Duchovny’s Hank Moody has an extreme stakes personality. Talk about a thrill.
He is constantly being humiliated and yet never humiliated, never defensive. He owns up to everything, embraces every personal flaw, owns everything, and is indestructible as a result, at least as of season one. It’s breathtaking to watch the imperviousness of a character who never denies who they are and how badly they act. He is in a constant state of hurling himself into the void. He is also hugely successful as a likable character. Deeply flawed, he is fundamentally a good person. (Hooker with a heart of gold, anyone?) He is simultaneously an excessive lover of women, and an excessive lover of womenkind.
I don’t know if the appearance in the mainstream of these kama kazi stories and characters represent a bit of our collective yearning to go loco in the face of our very difficult political, economic and environmental circumstances and the difficult future which seems to loom ahead. Stories have always been useful as a means of throwing ourselves, experientially, into the void, and getting to see how it feels without having to actually climb Mt. Everest with an oxygen tank. And while some actually choose to stand on the mountain top and push off, I am going to stick with the storytelling from those daring writers who imagine themselves there and then dream up what comes next.