Am I the only one that suspects that the purpose of Showtime, when it was added to the world of premium cable, was not quite as advertised? I think the point was to entertain the business traveler who wanted to watch a little porn in his hotel room after hours, but couldn’t be caught billing porn channels to his room, to then show up on his expense report. Showtime filled that need with a hard-R, soft-porn lineup – particularly in the later hours.
To this day, I still see Showtime’s bespoke content as focusing on this particular market and am often surprised when their productions have other positive qualities. I reflect on this as Californication leaves Netflix, probably never to return.
As I write this, we are on the cusp of the Great Streaming Wars that is certain to, once again, disrupt television as we know it. As shows are disappearing from Netflix, it may (for once) not be Netflix’s fault. Envious of Netflix’s market domination and the resultant irrational stock valuation, all and sundry studios are considering claiming their own stake in that gravy train* by creating their own cash cows made indispensable by exclusive, must-see content.
In Showtime’s case, they are piggy-backed on Amazon Prime. For another $11/ month on top of what you’re already paying Amazon, you can add the Showtime channel. Naturally, they’d be fools to let you get around this fee by letting you watch their shows on Netflix for nothing.
I may be a cynic, but I see this going nowhere good for us, the consumers. From the turn of the millennium, we have been luxuriating in a bath of incredibly good television. Driven by the competition for subscribers to the premium cable channels, viewing was democratized by Netflix. No longer do Sopranos and Game of Thrones addictions require a premium cable package with HBO added. Yet HBO (and others, including (now) Netflix) felt they should churn out high-end television as a means to get subscribers and build their brand. As they try to tighten control over the profits to be had from premium content, it is bound to restrict both access by consumers as well as the profits themselves – meaning less and lesser content for the future.
The Wall St. Journal has made a recurring argument that the consumers will be able to take advantage of the new way. Well, given the context, they’re really arguing that the shareholders will not see that value because consumers will alter their behavior. The Journal‘s view of the future is one with dozens of monthly subscriptions competing, each with exclusive content. Consumers can simply choose what they want to watch next and purchase only that monthly subscription and only for as long as they need. After finishing one show, they can cancel and move on to the next show on a different streaming package. Of course, this also destroys the value of a Netflix subscription to a cord-cutting consumer who just wanted a conveniently-available substitute for cable TV. You’ll be required to actively play a subscription game simply to view an ever-dwindling array of shows.
Anyway, let’s get back to Hank Moody. Californication was, for some time, a buzz amongst those who had Showtime but not really a thing for those of us without. As the seasons piled up, the show became available through my own “channels” and I had read some positive things about it. However, was it really worth trying to grab a handful of soft porn while shielding the consumption thereof from those I’d rather not have witness it? Do I want to be that guy?
Finally, Californication came and went on Netflix with, as usual, the latter motivating me to watch it. I really wish I had started in on it earlier as, to me at least, this is one of those top shows that define this generation’s Golden Age of Television**. Yes, its very heavy on the nookie – don’t let your mother know you’re watching this – but nookie isn’t what defines the show. Or, maybe better put, it’s a story about sex, drugs, and alcohol as a coping mechanism and so the soft-porn scenes actually are integral to the story rather than gratuitous. Well, sometimes.
Californication falls into that particular genre of self-referential black comedy, which has really produced some good stuff. In one episode toward the end of Season 1, after Hank’s agent has read his long-awaited new novella, the agent also realizes that the story (and its under-age girl) is probably autobiographical because Hank “writes about what he knows.” It makes one wonder about the whole series. Is it, also, autobiographical, under-aged girl and all? Perhaps it’s a compilation of industry tales, not necessarily including those involved in the production.
Speaking of under-age, in a show synopsis I read somewhere that it is the story of a “30-something writer who blah-blah-blah.” I was taken aback when I read that. David Duchovny doesn’t look “thirty-something,” nor do I think he looked “thirty-something” in 2007 when the show started. He was 47 at the time and, at least to me, looked in his forties. Not that there is anything wrong with that – like many forty-somethings, I think he’d improved with age since the X-Files days. My first thought was that, since in the first episode he meets 16-year-old Mia (played by a then 22-year-old), the entire cast needed to be shifted about a decade to make the May-December gaps look right. However, I’ll note a fact. Creator/writer/producer Tom Kapinos was in his mid-to-late 30s when the show kicked off, and possibly in his early 30s when he started writing it down.
Whatever the case, I will have to keep up with this one, despite the fact that it has now vanished behind a streaming paywall. I do have to wonder how the writers can keep this up for seven seasons (!). If the characters don’t evolve, you can’t have dozens and dozens of the same episode over and over. But if they do evolve, do you lose what’s made the show work in the first place? I know, everyone’s seen this one but me – so don’t ruin it!
*Is there a contest for most mixed of metaphors? If so, I want a piece of it.
**I hereby declare the Golden Age of Television to run from January 10th, 1999 (first airing of The Sopranos) to December 1st, 2017 (when Netflix approved Stranger Things, Season 3).