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Paul Casserly: 'Cheap, lewd and nasty'

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TV blogger Paul Casserly says there's more to Californication that prurient thrills and blokes behaving badly.

David Duchovny as Hank in Californication. Photo / Supplied
David Duchovny as Hank in Californication. Photo / Supplied

We've come a long way from getting excited by a pretty blond fondling a couple of melons on Benny Hill. What used to pass as smutty thrills in the 1980s wouldn't make a modern Muslim-cleric blush, let alone issue a fatwa.

Thank goodness then for Californication (TV3, Monday, 9.35pm), which still somehow manages to cause offence in our smut-filled world. What's possibly more shocking is that it actually has useful things to say about the world we live in.

There was something approaching insightful social commentary the other night, when the little bald dude Runkle (Evan Handler) was watching old-school VHS-era porn in an attempt to wean himself off the hardcore stuff he'd been watching on the internet. His ultimate aim was to have a real relationship with a real woman.

I wouldn't like to guess how many male viewers would be able to relate to that scene. But being Californication, the social commentary is rather fleeting, and before long Runkle is busy ransacking his date's date.

Lena Dunham's exceptional Girls has also made hay with a brutally honest approach to sex, although in a way more grown-up way than the middle-aged shenanigans of Californication. If Dunham is channelling Woody Allen, then Hank (Duchovny) is playing one of those horny dudes from a Wicked Wanda cartoon strip (as found in 1970s/80s Penthouse magazines.)

But there's more to this show than just prurient thrills and blokes behaving badly. Well, there's one thing, that wonderfully comedic ball of nuggetty spunk, Pamela Aldon, who plays Mrs Runkle. You might recognise her as a regular on Louie, and as the voice of Bobby Hill from King of the Hill. Here's a rather funny Pamela Aldon scene from Louie.

Back in 2008 Californication was under attack from Family First and became one of a small number of shows that had a Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) ruling upheld against it. For that reason, you're not likely to see a particularly memorable scene from season one again, on free-to-air TV at least.

Given the graphic nature of so much of the content on Californication you'd be right in assuming that the scene in question was hilarious, shocking, or prurient, depending on your taste.

Or as the BSA put it: "Complaint under section 8(1B)(b )(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 Californication - episode contained language, simulated threesome, oral sex, and female ejaculation, as well as shots of a woman's breasts - allegedly in breach of standards of good taste and decency."

(Soho is currently running the show from the beginning and will be showing it all uncut, with a rating of 18LSC)

You can read the full complaint in question on the BSA website here. It's more entertaining than you might think and way too smutty to reprint in too much detail.

My favourite, re-printable part, is when the complainant, who's from South Westland, says: "I found it highly unlikely that normal women would talk like that". She said that she found the dialogue "cheap, lewd and nasty". She's probably not watching The Ridges then.

What is instructive is how seriously the BSA and the broadcaster consider the complaint and the reasoned responses they offer. The detail is almost pornographic.

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