True TV | Cali Mad: Californication and Mad Men on DVD 

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Writers are a self-absorbed lot. Take me, for example: I subtitled True TV (already pretty arrogant) as The Only TV Column That Matters™, even though it’s just 700 words in a single midmarket alternative weekly because every other alt-weekly in the country is too cheap/stupid/shortsighted to carry it even for the most nominal of fees!

See how quickly that went off the rails? Crazy self-absorbed.

Which is probably why I’ve been hyping Californication to hell and back, even though few of my deadbeat readers and friends (not always one in the same) subscribe to Showtime: “It’s the greatest series ever,” I’d say, “It’s about a douchebag New York novelist who subsists on booze, pills, random sexual encounters and a blinding loathing for his life in Los Angeles! Hi-larious!” Then I’d hear back, “That sounds awful—and I don’t even have cable, anyway … Let me know when the DVD comes out.”

Thus is the power of my suggestion. Oh, and the DVD set came out last week—as I mentioned two weeks ago in the column you didn’t read.

Californication: Season 1 is simply 12 half-hour-ish episodes spread over two discs, with the only real series-related extra being a sparse commentary track provided by star David Duchovny, creator/producer Tony Kapinos and some “executive consultant.” Matters not: The arc of the show is blatantly spelled out in the first episode, a crackling introduction to the world of writer Hank Moody illustrated with enough profanity, nudity (including Duchovny), dark comedy and WTF? moments to remind you why adults pay for Showtime. HBO’s nice and all, but how many nuns and 16-year-olds get defiled in debut eps over there anymore?

Hollywood ruined Hank’s life; he’s bent on ruining it—and himself—right back. His novel, God Hates Us All (yes, like the Slayer album), was turned into a sappy TomKat romantic-comedy blockbuster, thus inducing writer’s block and a serious case of DrunkeNarcissism that drove away the two most important people in his life: His girlfriend and his young daughter. For a guy “drowning in a sea of pointless pussy,” Hank’s the loneliest son of a bitch in Hell-A.

Californication does have a heart, however, not just a hard-on: The show’s firmly grounded in Hank’s longing for his true love and kid and happier times back on the East Coast—so much so that if the inherent sweetness weren’t balanced with the acidic cynicism, this might be on ABC Family. If ABC Family allowed endless cavalcades of hot, naked women, that is—which I will be recommending enthusiastically, once they approve my “executive consultant” application.

AMC (nee American Movie Classics) is no ABC Family—up until last year, even us “TV critics” barely knew it existed. Then along came a buzz series about 1960 Madison Avenue advertising men and Bam! We’re all geeking out over a channel previously known only for Death Wish marathons.

Mad Men: Season 1 (being released Tuesday, July 1) is a masterpiece of aesthetics, a period piece so visually dead-on that it could be mistaken for one of AMC’s old films—except no movie of the time was as so aware of its time. The Madison men smoke constantly, knock back drinks at all times of day, are unapologetic sexists and racists, and look every bit the dapper rulers of their own little universe. Part of Mad Men’s underlying tension comes from history: We know the times were a-changing; they’re slowly realizing that American society is about to explode.

Despite an all-around great cast and secondary storylines, the real drama belongs to Don Draper (Jon Hamm, owning every scene he’s in), a creative director who lives under an assumed name and past, married to a (seemingly) shallow trophy wife in the suburbs and, when not bedding various women in the city, dreams of escaping the “perfect” life he’s created for himself. You know, the life that it’s his job to sell to everyone else. Irony, allegory, living together in perfect harmony …

The four-disc Mad Men DVD set is loaded with extras explaining the ’60s advertising era and the textures of the show; best is the Limited Edition package, a flip-top metallic Zippo lighter case that would do Don proud.

And, to answer your question: No, there’s nothing on TV this week …

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