By: Frazier Moore
NEW YORK – Hank Moody, the hero of Showtime’s comedy ‘Californication,’ is a roguish struggling novelist who says whatever is on his mind and feels a tug from every member of the opposite sex.
He might get into less trouble if he kept his lip buttoned and his fly zipped. But that wouldn’t be Hank, nor would it be ‘Californication,’ which mines laughs (and, occasionally, gasps) from Hank’s erotic misadventures, and those of his sexed-up fellow travelers.
Starring David Duchovny, ‘Californication’ begins its third season Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT with Hank landing a much-needed teaching job at a local college. This is thanks to a professor who is the sexy mother of a friend of Hank’s teenage daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin).
Here in academia, Hank is primed to seduce his new colleague (whose husband, the dean of the college, is his boss), while a graduate assistant and a sassy coed are also on Hank’s radar.
“I call it adult comedy,” says Duchovny, “but not in the Triple-X sense. It’s adult comedy because the characters are acting foolish but not acting like children. I see most mainstream American comedies with adults acting like children. Hank is childish, but he’s not a child. He’s a man acting childishly.”
Clad smart but un-starlike in a sweater and cords, the 49-year-old Duchovny is meeting a reporter at a luncheonette on the Upper East Side, where he lives with actress Tea Leoni, his wife of a dozen years, and their two children.
In mid-sentence, he spies a hand-lettered sign above the vintage soda fountain.
“They have banana splits!” he says. “I got to tell the kids about that.”
These days, Duchovny’s family is together and stronger than ever, he’s happy to report.
“Things are great,” he sums up, sharing details from a cross-country RV trip they made this summer after shooting wrapped on ‘Californication.’ Highlights: Grand Canyon, a ball game in St. Louis and a visit with an Amish family in Ohio.
But a year ago, things weren’t so bright. In August 2008, Duchovny announced he was entering rehab for sex addiction. Meanwhile, his marriage was in jeopardy.
Making things worse, this news, for some viewers, served to undermine Duchovny’s accomplishments on ‘Californication.’ It suggested that his role as Hank hit too close to home, that Duchovny wasn’t play-acting as much as just playing himself.
With no sign of defensiveness, Duchovny makes clear he regards the challenges he faced last year to be a private matter. But he is candid in acknowledging “an unfortunate coincidence,” at least appearance-wise, between his life and his art.
“Any subject matter like that, by its very nature, is going to get trivialized,” he says. “When you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s how it looks to people who are discussing it. But the two have nothing to do with one another — my personal life and the show. No more than aliens had anything to do with my time on ‘The X-Files,'” he adds, mentioning the paranormal thriller that aired from 1993 to 2002 and made him a star.
Any public confusion that arose between Hank’s exploits and the issues for which Duchovny sought help “hurts on both levels,” he says. “It belittles the life and it belittles the work, at the same time.”
“As a father and a husband, I would have preferred not to have exposed (my family) to any of that kind of thing. To me, that’s what’s most regrettable.”
Things aren’t always as simple as they seem.
Consider: ‘Californication’ isn’t really a show about sex, Duchovny says, but about a man with inner conflicts and self-esteem problems. Hank is a charismatic but troubled man who wants to reunite with his loved ones (Becca and her mother, Karen, played by Natascha McElhone), no matter how much his bad-boy behavior continues to drive his family apart.
“What’s funny to me is not what the character wants,” Duchovny says, “but what he can’t help doing.”
What Hank can’t help doing, and does — a lot of it — is make use of the latitude a premium-cable network like Showtime can offer its shows. ‘Californication’ is as racy as it is funny.
And not just for Hank. This season, his agent Charlie (Evan Handler) has bawdy clashes with estranged wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon) as well as with a new boss, played by Kathleen Turner with hilarious lechery.
Not about sex, David?
“I will sometime have arguments with (series creator) Tom Kapinos,” Duchovny concedes, “and I’ll sound like an old biddy: I’ll say, ‘Why is it all about sex?'”
With a smile, he declares, “That was never the show to me.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.