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Californication's Duchovny: A brilliant train wreck keeps chugging along

Hank Moody is a jerk. His lawyer asks him nicely not to smoke in her office. He does so anyway. He crawls into bed with his best friend's wife while the friend, who is separated from the wife, is in the other room. Oh, and he sleeps with a 16-year-old named Mia, though he didn't know her age and says he was set up.

He is the California novelist at the heart of the 12 half-hour episodes of Californication: The Fourth Season (2010), made for the U.S. Showtime channel and released this week on a two-disc DVD. Played by David Duchovny with rumpled charm and a five-o'-clock shadow, Hank gets away with his jerky behaviour because his friends and family put up with it and strangers find the bad-boy act intriguing, until he goes too far and their smiles fade. One character calls him a "brilliant train wreck."

How much of a wreck? At the end of the comedy's third season, Hank wrote a novel based on his relationship with Mia, Mia stole the novel and published it as her own, Hank punched Mia's boyfriend and, after a scuffle with police, Hank landed in jail.

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As the fourth season opens, Hank emerges from 72 hours in stir to find that his wife (Natascha McElhone) and his daughter (Madeleine Martin) want nothing to do with him after learning of his tryst with Mia. However, because of the publicity surrounding the case, a producer wants to make a movie of Mia's (well, Hank's) book, for which Hank is asked to write the screenplay by the film's lead actress, Sasha (Addison Timlin), who promptly sleeps with Hank to research the role. Then Hank is arrested for statutory rape for that business with Mia. If it's not one thing, it's another.

There is a frisson to seeing Duchovny in this role, given that the actor himself went to rehab in 2008 to battle his problem with, in a phrase new at the time, sex addiction. Hank wouldn't last a minute in rehab. He would proposition every young nurse and break every house rule.

The characters in Californication are fluent in ribald rejoinders, most of them unprintable in these pages, often along the lines of keeping it in one's pants lest someone rip it off. They also speak in cultural allusions. Hank's friend Charlie (Evan Handler, Charlotte's Harry on Sex and the City) says to him, "You're not the only exile on Main Street, Hank."

There is much macho posturing. When Charlie asks Hank how many women he has slept with, Hank replies, "You don't want that information rattling around your head, making you feel all effeminate and emasculated and [stuff]" There is also nudity, which will please those keen to see the breasts of Sasha or the bare bum of Hank.

In a Showtime cross-promotional move, the DVD includes two episodes of a show called Gigolos and two episodes of Episodes, with Matt LeBlanc. LeBlanc fares better than former Friends castmate Matthew Perry, whose cancelled series Mr. Sunshine was released this week not on a retail DVD, but as a U.S. online-only manufactured-on-demand DVD-R.

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