- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

Showtime’s dangerous Eden

Take the title of Showtime’s new half-hour comedy seriously.

“Californication” features plenty of it. In the first episode of the series, which bows Monday at 10:30 p.m., following the third-season premiere of “Weeds,” three women appear topless in the bedroom.

That’s not the only way the new show, which marks “The X Files’ ” David Duchovny’s return to series television, differs from the safer offerings on broadcast. “Californication” takes cliches — about geography, relationships and work life — and plays with them until they’re almost unrecognizable.

Mr. Duchovny plays Hank, a New York novelist who moved to Los Angeles when his book was turned into a film. He has been disillusioned by his time in Lotus Land, of course: His book with a black cover, “God Hates Us All,” was turned into “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love” starring “Tom and Katie.” In the process, he also has lost his family and his will to write. Girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone, who also appears in the new TNT series “The Company”) has left him for a more successful man, taking their 12-year-old daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin) with her.

One might think Karen left because of Hank’s seemingly unquenchable libido. “You’ve always been a walking id, Hank,” Karen tells him. Hank’s semicelebrity status gets him lots of tight and toned L.A. women, whom we see in all their glory. Yet that’s one of the many surprises of “Californication”: Karen cheated on Hank.

Showtime only sent the first episode of the series for review, so it’s not certain where it will go, but we’ll probably watch Hank attempt a journey of redemption as he tries to get back his muse and his mistress.

He’s got a long way to go: The first scene features him putting out his cigarette in holy water just before he gets propositioned by a nun. (Is it saved from offensiveness by being only a dream?)

The show boasts hilarious (albeit unprintable) dialogue and pitch-perfect performances. Suffice to say that if you don’t change the channel after the church scene, you’ll likely be amused endlessly by Hank’s foibles.

Mr. Duchovny is more than welcome back on the small screen. He deserves to be seen by many more viewers than those of the small but good movies in which he’s been starring since “The X Files.” The complex character of Hank gives him a chance to show range every single week.

It might be difficult for some to understand why Hank wants Karen back when he can choose from all those young Hollywood hotties. However, the luminous Miss McElhone clearly is the only woman who could be a match for this clever cynic. Also trying to keep him grounded is his agent, Charlie, played by “Sex and the City’s” much-missed Evan Handler.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Returning ‘Weeds’

Few things have changed in the picturesque village of Agrestic, the hotbed setting for “Weeds,” Showtime’s Emmy-nominated drama, which begins its third season Monday evening at 10.

Nancy (Mary Louise Parker), the angel-faced suburban mom-turned-drug-dealer, and her partner, the street-wise Conrad (Romany Malco), are being held hostage at gunpoint by two rival gangs over a drug deal gone bad. Silas (Hunter Parrish), Nancy’s oldest son, has been caught on surveillance tape stealing “Drug Free Zone” street signs; her youngest child, Shane (Alexander Gould), has gone missing; and Nancy’s second husband, cruel DEA agent Peter (Martin Donovan), is sleeping with the fishes.

The good news: Because Showtime plans 13 to 15 episodes, true “Weeds” fans already know that this will all work out somehow and the true fun comes in finding out how.

Now the bad: You’ll need patience.

The season opener, “Doing the Backstroke,” pretty much picks up where last seaon’s finale ended, with Nancy and Conrad trapped in their place of business. There’s a gunfight between the two gangs, and fatal shots are fired. The victor of the dust-up, U-Turn (played by “Desperate Housewives” castoff Page Kennedy), spares Nancy and her business partner. However, both are indebted to him for $150,000 worth of missing pot, and if Nancy and Conrad can’t retrieve the missing weed, they’re dead meat, the profane U-Turn declares.

Sadly, the sparkling dialogue and plot twists that powered the first two seasons of “Weeds” is missing in the season opener and its second installment, “A Pool and His Money.” Things improve by episode three (“The Brick Dance”), when another DEA agent unexpectedly shows up on Nancy’s doorstep inquiring about the missing Peter’s whereabouts.

“Weeds’ ” new season truly finds its familiar footing in episode four (its title can’t be printed in a family newspaper), when Matthew Modine tuns up as Sullivan Groff, a cutthroat developer from the neighboring town of Majestic who uses family values and spirituality to advance his own agenda. The veteran Mr. Modine is divine in this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing role and may be the best reason to tune in.

Robyn-Denise Yourse

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