September 30, 2008

This Show is Compulsive Viewing


Has anyone heard a good term for seasonal premium cable channel subscribers? You know, the folks who pay for HBO until the minute after the season finale of Entourage, or the rush of Showtime subscribers who just saddled up for tonight's Season 2 premiere of Californication. "Showbirds" occured to me, but I think we can do better.

And, yes, this is my way of saying that based on first season merits, Californication is worth paying extra for. David Duchovny's Hank Moody character is one heckuva drunk, womanizing writer, who tries to balance winning back The Woman of His Dreams with his down and dirty lifestyle. Moody is like Mad Men's Don Draper character -- endlessly watchable, always able to say the perfect thing whether the situation calls for naughty or nice, and he always gets the girl. Sometimes two or three per episode.

Duchovny's rehab check-in for sexual addiction at the end of August was an oddly convenient event to precede the premiere of a show where the central character is a sex-obsessed narcissist. Does the coincidence make Duchovny and Moody's similarities a case of life imitating art, a publicity move or something more serious?

First, there are problems with the whole term "sexual addiction." The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not even recognize addictions, only dependencies.

What's more, the word addiction is used in the psychological world in regard to substances, not behaviors. People become addicted to drugs and booze. Duchovny, who commented on his struggle in interviews long before playing Hank Moody, would actually have a sexual compulsion, since his problem is behavior related, not substance related.

Ivan Flieshman, a clinical psychologist in DeLand, explained the trouble with breaking down addictions and compulsions into niches. "People see labels like sexual addiction and alcoholism and think there are all kinds of separate problems, and there aren't. In any case, there's an underlying trauma to be dealt with. A sexual compulsion is a symptom of something else."

Flieshman, speculating on Duchovny's pathology, said the actor likely carries tremendous tension from an unresolved trauma and expresses it in a sexual way because sex is such a high-reward behavior. Shame follows the behavior, which creates a need for another high-reward behavior to alleviate the shame. And so, the cycle continues.

If this is the case, is starring in such a sexually charged role just about the worst thing someone with Duchovny's history can take on? Not necessarily. "It all depends on what his sequence is, what he's into. And we'll never know that," said Flieshman.

And it's true that a beer-drinking alcoholic can go to a party with whisky only and not be triggered to drink. So if Duchovny's sequence is online animated porn or something, seeing and touching real, naked women in a movie scene wouldn't get his party started.

Regardless, Hank Moody's party starts at 10 tonight on Showtime.

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