Every year, there are literally dozens of new shows premiered in the vast television universe -- broadcast, basic cable and the premium pay-per-view channels. Critics meant to cover these things can only choose from a fraction of them. What motivates their decision tells you more about them than it does the shows.
It can be that a network, sensing a hit, pours its formidable resources into an intense marketing campaign and captures their attention. It can be a Big Name associated with the new release that commands coverage. In some cases, and I'm afraid in far too few cases, the new show is, in fact, a good one and worthy of a critic's professional attention.
But those are the exceptions. What critics focus on, as an imperative, are those programs that are defined as cutting edge, the ones that break new ground -- especially if they're salacious. And when it stars a known entity, it's a lock for a review.
So it comes as no surprise that the Showtime network's new "Californication" series has everyone's attention. It stars David Duchovny (of "X-Files" fame), who plays Hank Moody, a frustrated writer with self-esteem issues who is obsessed with having casual sex. That's it. That's all there is to the plot line of this "comedy."
Most critics don't like it. The New York Times calls it "misogynist ... a dark comedy (that) is not nearly dark or funny enough." It suggests the "depictions of sex are frequent and graphic, which may offend some viewers but will undoubtedly draw many more." The Los Angeles Times savages it for lacking "meaning or reason. ... 'Californication' makes us want to set fire to our hair and run screaming into the street."
Some critics are lukewarm. Variety labels it "watchable but not fully arousing," but does praise it for "a half-dozen (bared breasts) in the pilot, which isn't a bad bared-breast-per-minute ratio." USA Today mentions the sex but is non-judgmental.
A few critics are raving. Listen to tax-payer funded NPR and its "Fresh Air" critic, and you'll hear a lengthy, gushing report calling the series "rich ... so good ... one of the best shows of the year ... great summer programming." Newsday opines that "the star's charisma, the droll dialogue, snappy timing and fleetly incisive work from guest performers create a funny, revealing and painfully true moment of the type in which the pilot revels." It really likes the sex, too, immediately telling us the "first scene has a nun kneeling before Duchovny in church."
Yes, a nun. Let me walk you through that scene. Better yet, I'll have another kind of critic -- the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights -- do this for you.