Californication: harmful or just fun?

I need to start today's blog post with a warning:the following blog post contains adult language that may shock and/or offend some readers, and is probably unsuitable for younger readers. Discretion is advised. I mean, the post is about Californication. How could it not be offensive in some way, right?

The show stars David Duchovny as horny novelist Hank Moody, a man in a constant state of mid-life crisis who attempts to juggle the various relationships in his life while writing books and (this season) movie scripts, having sex with many beautiful women and trying to control his best friend Runkle (the brilliant Evan Handler).

It's a remarkable show, thanks mostly to the larger-than-life settings and people who inhabit Hank's world - last season's guest turn from Rob Lowe was sublime, while rapper-turned-actor RZA has done a great job this year as hip-hop mogul Samurai Apocalypse. In many ways, Hank's fictionalised version of Hollywood is vastly more entertaining than the interpersonal drama that forms the core of the show, though not as satisfying on a story level.

But that's beside the point - what I'm trying to get at is that Californication is an edgy show that pushes established boundaries of decency, and a show like that is bound to get under the skin of a few viewers. Like Ms Miller from South Westland who filed a complaint to the BSA, which they upheld, after a particularly dirty episode in 2008.

Ms Miller says that "the programme makers intended us to see a threesome engaging in group sex, with a woman in an extremely degraded position, being required to 'service' two men at once. The sound effects were brutal and graphic." She also said it was irrelevant whether or not the sex was simulated, because "to us as viewers, to all intents and purposes it looked real ... gratuitous perverted sex with only a thinly disguised storyline holding it together."

Normally I would side with the brilliant Paul Casserly, who argued that there is more to the show than just "prurient thrills and blokes behaving badly" in a blog post a couple of weeks ago - and I do agree with Mr Casserly's contention that the show has value beyond what the casual, stopped in during an ad break, "ewwboobs" viewer might think.

But there is also a part of me that wonders: what if Ms Miller (from South Westland) is partly right?

I've talked before about how what we watch can desensitise us to certain types of behaviour, and lead us over time, as a society, to accept things that might not necessarily be morally right; for example, there is a general consensus that pornography is degrading to women, yet it's hilarious, even somewhat logical, when Runkle is tuning in to some straight porn in an effort to wean himself off the kinkier pornography he's gotten used to.

There's also an interesting dichotomy in place in society where we cry out against things like adultery, violence, smoking and drug use - yet we love watching Hank ruin his relationship with Karen, we love watching Jax beat the snot out of some guy, we love watching Don Draper smoke like a train in the office, and we love watching Walter White dominating the meth trade in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Vicarious living indeed.

Look, I'm not saying I necessarily agree with what I'm saying here - I'm actually a big fan of Californication* and I think people need to make up their own minds about this sort of thing. But there is still a small voice inside that complains about how harmful a show like this might possibly be.

What do you think: is Californication a potentially harmful show? Do you ever wonder about the content of some of our most celebrated shows? And how are you enjoying the latest season of Californication?

(*) I'm also excited for next season after hearing that Aussie-Brit comedian, and rather brilliant musical comic, Tim Minchin will be guest starring as the writer of a musical Mr Moody is working on.

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