Who Is Hank Moody?
“I probably won’t go down in history, but I will go down on your sister.”
Ten years ago, Showtime gave us Californication, the story of Hank Moody: an over-sexed, booze-addled writer fighting to get his family back. Hank (played by David Duchovny) is comic, tragic, absurd yet refreshingly real. A figure of escapism something like a male Carrie Bradshaw. There’s no telling how many viewers were inspired to major in English or drop-out altogether and give writing a shot.
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What made the show so compelling–besides the procession of naked ladies you can expect from Showtime–was the attention to detail. Rather than cashing-in on the bad-boy-novelist cliché, the creators made a detailed composite from a number of real writers whose lives influence the show’s setting, themes, and dialogue. For fans of these influencers, Californication is like a biographical scavenger hunt.
“Love is a dog from hell.” —Charles Bukowski
This is the most obvious inspiration for Moody’s character, it’s even where he gets the name “Hank” (Bukowski nickname.)
The two share boozy self-loathing, a complex relationship with the city of Los Angeles, and a tendency to long for one woman whilst getting into bed with half the “310” area code. Each man had his muse-cum-soulmate–Hank’s Karen and Bukowski’s Linda. They blow it with these women, win them back through acts of panty-dropping literary genius, and blow it again.
But this is where the similarities end. Hank drove a Porsche, bought with a seven-figure book option. Bukowski drove “the thirty-five dollar car (that) nearly always started.”
The real writer’s life and work were shaped by the grim realities of alcoholism and homelessness–including intestinal bleeding, crabs, and stints in the County Jail. Bukowski did much of his drinking on Skid Row, Hank drinks from a glass on Abbot Kinney.
“I went home with the waitress, the way I always do.
How was I to know she was with the Russians too.”
—Warren Zevon “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”
“The Genius” is all over the soundtrack, Hank talks about him more than once, and his lyrics make it into the dialogue: “your shit’s fucked up.”…
“He’s an excitable boy, Charlie.”
One of America’s most literary singer-songwriters, he wrote about weird stuff like Lord Byron, Lon Chaney, and the CIA’s presence in the Congo. He and Hunter Thompson partied on a regular basis. When he got sober, Zevon recorded “Desperados Under the Eaves.” A ballad of alcoholism and regret set in the City of Angels.
“And if California slides into the ocean,
Like the mystics and statistics say it will,
I predict this motel will be standing
Until I’ve paid my bill.”
“I was fortunate to get a lot of mileage out of my vices.”
–Jay McInerney in an interview with the Guardian.
In one episode, an angry girlfriend calls Hank a “poor man’s Jay McInerney.” Californication’s creator, Tom Kapinos is said to have told Duchovny to go for a Bright Lights, Big City vibe.
Like Hank, McInerney was preternaturally talented, with the mixed blessing of literary superstardom at an early age. Much of McInerney’s success owes to an ability to make complex characters out of coked-out New York yuppies–a rare feat judging by his legion of talentless imitators.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Here’s to alcohol, the rose coloured glasses of life.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald,
The Beautiful and Damned
Hank gets his backstory from Fitzgerald: bright young writer moves to The City (Moody from Long Island, Fitzgerald from St. Paul, MN,) makes it as the quintessential New York writer, then goes to Hollywood for screenwriting work and proceeds to languish in the sunny vapidity of Southern California.
Californication’s 2nd season casts Hank in the role of a Nick Carraway type in a vague adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Hank’s fictional novel, God Hates Us All, is described more than once as his “Gatsby.”
Other characters are always asking “what happened to you, man?” It’s not hard to imagine readers of the lost generation asking the same question of the novelist of the century turned MGM script doctor.
Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at the age of 44. At his funeral, Dorothy Parker muttered a line from Gatsby’s funeral “the poor son-of-a-bitch.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald died young. Californication was not so lucky. After the brilliant first and second seasons, the show became what it set out to make fun of: an inane BroCal bacchanalia adrift–to quote the show–in “a sea of pointless pussy.”
A Californication Reading List
Women — Charles Bukowski
Bright Lights, Big City — Jay McInerney
The Fuck-Up — Arthur Nersesian
Less than Zero — Bret Easton Ellis
Slouching Towards Bethlehem — Joan Didion
The Raw & the Cooked — Jim Harrison (no influence, but has an episode named after it.)
Girl, Interrupted — Susanna Kaysen (ditto.)
Images: Showtime, the New York Times, Flavorwire, the Telegraph