Ever since getting into show business (going to commercial auditions, getting up on stage to do comedy improv work), I’ve been told to brace myself because the only popular roles for men are characters who are idiots and clowns.
The stereotypical dad, personified by people like Elliot Gould, who played Monica and Ross’ socially clueless father on “Friends”, was all I could expect to shoot for. Grown men were people to be laughed at, not taken seriously. If you tried to inject any kind of realism into an adult male character, you’d turn viewers off.
I bought it. I mean the evidence was right there, wasn’t it? Even some of the fathers on the hit show “Skins” were over-the-top dofuses. (Doofi?) Dads who clearly didn’t know how to communicate with their kids. Men who couldn’t possibly understand women. Men like Al Bundy on the show “Married with Children” – who preferred to watch TV with one hand down their pants. They were fodder for righteous and vivacious women, who took to rolling their eyes anytime the household clown had something to say.
It goes on still. Take a look at any commercial out there where a father or husband is involved. Generally, his IQ is in the double digits only. Everyone else is smarter, more socially aware. Everyone except male adults know that you should ask for directions if you’re lost. What’s more, this little stereotype has become so popular, real life people still think it’s true.
So it was with joy that I stumbled upon a little show called “Californication”.
I don’t believe David Duchovny purposely set out to destroy the adult male stereotype, because that would have been disingenuous. The opposite of altruistic. No, he merely wanted to tell the story of a man who realized a little late that he was in love with his long time girlfriend, Karen. The character – Hank Moody – has plenty of faults. He is portrayed as a “lost child” – someone who didn’t quite grow up. But the man knows himself. If anything, he appreciates other people – mostly women – far more than he should, to the point where he finds it next to impossible to say “no” to them. He has a good heart, and it shows. While other “lost children” go around using women for their own gratification, he paints a solid line, separating himself from them. “This far, and no farther”. He refuses to hit on women who’ve said “no”. If he has a disagreement with them, he won’t allow them to walk home alone. He’ll make sure the girl gets home safely. He helps them not because he wants to bed them too. He helps them because he can’t help himself.
In one scene, he was talking to a woman who had been turfed by her boyfriend after the guy met another woman. She clearly wasn’t over him, and Hank realized that her self-esteem had taken a blow. So he tried to counter that as best he could. To her horror, the ex showed up at the restaurant where she and Hank were having dinner, new girlfriend in tow. Hank saw an opportunity. He put his napkin down and walked over to the ex-boyfriend’s table, and went into gay flame mode. He told him that he was telling all of his sexual partners to checked out for an STD, and that he should do so quickly as well. The new girlfriend looked at her boyfriend in disbelief. The boyfriend was speechless, not knowing where to begin. The whole scene was a thing of beauty. Here, let me show you:
It’s his love for women that creates conflict with Karen, with whom he’s had a child – a daughter who he loves dearly. Karen still loves him but recognizes his many faults. As does his daughter.
As you can probably guess – it’s a show I highly recommend. And even though it’s probably easy to follow mid-stream, I’d recommend starting off with season #1 and going through the episodes in order. Word of warning: I’m not certain there are any boundaries here. The show is highly sexual. The lack of boundaries is in part what makes it so hilarious. Picture Charlie – Hank’s agent – testifying in court on Hank’s behalf as a character witness. He’s being questioned by Hank’s lawyer, and he blurts out a confession about the time he asked Hank to provide the third wheel in a threesome. Hank buries his head in his hands, and the lawyer’s jaw drops as she tries to figure out a way to get him to shut the hell up. Charlie is oblivious…….
You know what? The written word just isn’t good enough here. Check the scene out for yourself. It’s so worth the minute and a half. Trust me on this.
The popularity of this show – and shows like “Modern Family” – have proven the point. Grown adult men can be portrayed as characters who are other than stereotypical buffoons.
Even in comedies.