Oh, that poor tortured genius.
I used to be one of those losers who didn’t watch TV.
Not because I didn’t like it or anything, but because I thought watching TV would rot my brain cells, or something.
I slurped down the kool-aid that books are the only method to world domination and that my time was always better spent gazing into the page rather than the screen. Yeah, I was that virtue-signaling asshole.
And man was I wrong.
Video and the written word are a means to share content. And if I could only choose one, I’d hide in the corner of a library all day. But, there are plenty of shitty books. With the ease of self-publishing, there are more shitty books arriving at America’s doorsteps each day.
And, there are plenty of phenomenal TV shows. By ignoring everything on screen — especially in this golden age of television — I lost out on the chance to enjoy and learn from great art.
Great TV doesn’t just entertain us. It’s thought-provoking, it’s quotable, it has characters, scenes, and story structures we’re drawn to, that we can learn from. Just last night, for example, I watched a sci-fi film on artificial intelligence. After the film, my roommate and I discussed the implications of AI for upwards of an hour, what role we play in it, and what challenges we face.
TV fit that story better, with the futuristic visuals that strangely didn’t seem so far from our current existence.
Since I’ve reframed TV in this way, I’ve kept a small commonplace book at my side as I watch so I can write down lines that capture my affection, twists that encourage exploration, and scenes that demand deconstruction.
Just as I do when I read.
I won’t even argue there isn’t a place for mindless TV anymore (hey, I’m a sucker for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while drunk), but with so many great shows and movies easily accessible through streaming, I typically look for shows that provide more than just a few laughs (as witty as Always Sunny’s jokes can be).
And, there haven’t been any shows—any characters—where I’ve found myself marking down more quotes than the Californication’s Hank Moody. The series is several years old now, but the protagonist Moody played by David Duchovny has a way with words, style, and timing that doesn’t fade with age.
For the unacquainted, Duchovny’s Moody is a writer from New York City — who moves out to Los Angeles (sound familiar? *cough* Roman). David Duchovny’s Moody is fictitious but likely based on the writer Charles Bukowski. In some seasons, Hank is stricken with writer’s block. In others (well, all of them really) his personal and family life teeters on the edge of destruction. Yet, through it all, Hank maintains a suave demeanor, as he’s simultaneously a genius and a train wreck.
My commonplace book is filled with so many stellar quotes, from the thought-provoking to poetic imagery, to words or sayings I just wanted to steal.
Duchovny was nominated for a Golden Globe four times for best actor, winning once. His brilliance speaks for itself.
Note: The parentheses after quotes mean (season.episode) in case you want to find those moments.
This is Moody in one line. He’s a complete train wreck and the coolest guy in every room. He epitomizes the seductive power of going against expectations. Here, Moody uses the perfect image, a swirling black hole, to describe himself. And while we may not all be the simultaneous attractors of destruction and seduction, we can frame this to suit ourselves.
While I (hopefully) won’t be in a situation to call myself a swirling black hole of chaos, I can verbalize my own dichotomies with this. Despite the fact that I’m a [poetic imagery], I’m pretty fucking [adjective].
There are two things we should all agree suck: clichés, and misogynism. Moody takes a hard stance against both in a sarcastic, throwaway comment. The American colloquial tongue is loaded with tons of stupid terms referring to the conquest of women disguised within a sports analogy, the most basic being, “did you score last night?” Next time you hear some jabroni use one, don’t pass up the opportunity to call him out on his cliché masculine bullshit.
And then, take a minute to educate him on his undertone misogyny, and why it’s not okay.
I used this line in the introduction to this article on broscience and the scientific method.
Perfect moments are rare. As a writer, finding a way to capture a perfect moment with a perfect phrase is even more precious. This quote is something we can all relate to — a perfect moment where everything just flowed. A moment where we would’ve been the happiest person on earth spending the rest of our life in. This quote has made me think about how I can, firstly, experience those moments, and secondly embrace them when they come. And then, of course, I’ll have to find a way to write about it.
I’ll let you know when I get there.
Moody is a textbook example of what Robert Greene would call the Rake. The Rake is a seducer archetype in Greene’s work, The Art of Seduction. Greene writes of the Rake, “When he desires a woman, brief though the moment may be, he will go to the ends of the earth for her.”
In this scene, Moody opens up about his seemingly insatiable desire for women. Despite all the scandals and accusations he goes through, he starts with the best of intentions, even though those intentions so often end in emptiness, pain, and regret.
Sometimes, he just uses words I like. So I steal them and add them to my lexicon.
Rendezvous is just an underused, under-appreciated verb. Moody gives it justice.
Is chariot an appropriate synonym for cars on special occasions? I say, yes.
Like Hank’s black hole-ish tendencies, reality seems to undermine him. He frequently tries to escape reality — with a one-night fling, or dangerous use of drugs.
This line struck me because I think it speaks to his ability to dream, to idealize the situation around him even when it’s so bleak.
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The beauty of this quote is the repetition of “right” and “write” which gives it that witty flare. It has also been very useful for me from a business perspective, as I discuss in that Instagram post.
A few of Karen’s moments have struck my core.
Karen is Hank’s baby mama to Becca, his only real true love throughout the whole show. She shows a knack for words in her own right.
This stuck out to me because I relate to it, and this part of Karen’s character aligns with mine. I will be stealing this word for word on many occasions.
Like Hank’s yearning to escape reality, Karen is also enamored by soul-searching, idealistic thoughts.
While Hank Moody and Karen spurned most of my favorite lines from the show, other characters, like Hank’s agent Charlie Runkle and his partner Marcy, from the promiscuous Mia and the rockstar Atticus Fetch. While I don’t think Hank’s long lost song Levon shows much to emulate, even Becca shows a profound maturity towards the end of the show.
Whichever ones you’re drawn to, make note of their style, wit, empathy, and add it to your repertoire. Their “voice” can become yours.
Personally, I wish Hank’s books were actual books, because I would love to read God Hates Us All. Oh well. After all, that was the book that sent him to Hollywood to make it into a film, A Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
Our voice — whether in writing or conversation — is the collection of all our experiences and wisdom. We, consciously or not, talk like those we’re around the most. As the adage goes, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This includes the language of the author’s we read and the lines of fictitious characters on screen.
By studying language — written and spoken — we can choose to shape our voice, to mold it in the way that best suits us, taking a line here, adjusting, and then, consciously or not, inserting it into our conversations or writing.
As I develop my voice both as a writer and a conversationalist, I haven’t found anything more valuable than deliberately studying those whose writing and oration I admire.
And that starts from my favorite writers like Salinger, Lethem, and Capote, to people I look up to like Derek Jeter and his knack for the vague yet charming postgame interview, and fictitious characters, like Hank Moody.
To that, we toast, in the words of Hank Moody, to the blank page.
Looking for more writing and speaking advice drawn from all sorts of literary and pop-culture references? That’s basically what I do all day on Instagram, so go check out more there.