I’m liking Showtime’s Californication a lot more than I thought I would. I mean, what could be less interesting to watch than a writer who can’t write? Plus, the whole premise — divorced Dad with adolescent kid finds that, despite his lack of money, prospects, and self-esteem, he can bed pretty much any woman he wants (and premium cable can show as many of them topless as it wants) except for the ex-wife he still pines for — reminded me too much of HBO’s old nudge-nudge-wink-wink sitcom Dream On, only without the light tone or the gimmicky use of archival TV clips as commentary. Still, David Duchovny is giving a typically sly and subtle performance as walking midlife crisis Hank Moody, and the show does a good job depicting several varieties of neurotic male behavior. In fact, the only thing that really disturbs me about Californication is seeing Madeline Zima naked.
You may remember Zima (pictured, bottom right) as little Gracie, the youngest of the three children on CBS’ The Nanny (1993-99). Or from an even earlier role, a cherubic moppet with another unlikely nanny in the 1992 thriller The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I met and interviewed Zima when she was promoting that film; she was six, but was one of those eerily precocious child actors who seem more like little adults in person. She was just 13 when The Nanny went off the air, and in the eight years since, I’ve hardly seen her in anything except the occasional TV guest spot. So it was jarring to see the 21-year-old Zima in last month’s Californication pilot, naked and writhing atop Duchovny. The jolt could have come from seeing her as an adult after eight years of low-profile work; I watched Drew Barrymore and Jodie Foster go from child actresses to adults who do nude scenes, but their transitions seemed less abrupt because they had documented virtually every stage of their adolescences onscreen, without lengthy absences. Or it could have come from watching her slug Duchovny’s Hank in the face during sex. (Zima’s Mia is a creepy siren who beds and belts Hank before telling him that she’s only 16 and is also the daughter of Hank’s ex’s new fiancé, making her the future stepsister to Hank’s 12-year-old daughter.) Either way, I was not prepared (Cue Aunt Sassy: I don’t need to see that!). At least in subsequent episodes she’s been clothed, albeit in such middle-aged-guy fantasy-fueling outfits as a bikini or a girls’-school uniform.
Meanwhile, Nicholle Tom (pictured, upper right), who played Zima’s big sister Maggie on The Nanny, also has her first noteworthy adult role on a risqué cable show; on IFC’s The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, she plays Jackie’s hard-partying pal Tara. But Tara’s misadventures are more broadly comical than Mia’s, and as far as I know, Tom hasn’t had to go topless yet. Don’t know whatever became of Benjamin Salisbury, the actor who played middle child Brighton on The Nanny, but I imagine he’s somewhere in front of a TV with Fran Drescher, trying to keep her from having a stroke upon watching Gracie and Maggie’s grown-up misbehavior.