April 2, 2012



CALIFORNICATION lost a step this season, which is what often happens when a series of limited scope reaches Year 5.  Unlike other Showtime series like Weeds and Dexter, Californication has never had the appetite for seasonal re-invention.  It tends to merely introduce a few new supporting characters and run the same basic story again.  It didn’t help that in this case, the season ended in the silliest of all cliffhanger modes, the kind that will inevitably be erased in the first 15 seconds of next season.

This year, the supposed twist was that wry satyr Hank Moody (David Duchovny) was working on a script rewrite for a rapper turned prospective movie star, Samurai Apocalypse (RZA).  Naturally, along the way he slept with Sam’s girlfriend Kali (Meagan Good).  “Crazy rapper” jokes having long been exhausted as a subject for comedy, much of this story felt like it had been written for an earlier season and then left out in the sun.  In the season finale, written (as were most of the season’s episodes) and directed by Californication creator Tom Kapinos, Sam finally discovered Kali’s infidelity and pulled a gun.  This led to the big moment that the network had been featuring in promos for weeks:  Hank’s agent and BFF Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) leaping into the path of the bullet–which turned out to result in a mere graze to his arm.
Hank didn’t do anything this season to make him more interesting.  As ever, he spent much of his time mooning over ex-wife Karen (Natascha McElhone), and wishing he were capable of having a stable life with her and their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin).  This seasaon, Karen was re-married to likable alcoholic Richard Bates (Jason Beghe), who late in the season indulged in some bisexuality that left Karen back on the market by the season finale. The most interesting story arc of the season belonged to Becca, who’s now going to college, working as a barista, and–most importantly for this show–having sex, notably with Tyler (Scott Michael Foster), an asshole who cheats on her, treats everyone around him with contempt, and–well, as Hank has no choice but to notice, he’s not unlike Becca’s dad.  The relationship between Hank and Tyler could have been interesting, but the show didn’t develop Tyler in any meaningful way.  
Meanwhile, the Charlie Runkle branch of the show continued to have his ex-wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon) re-married to well-hung (hey, it’s a plot point) movie producer Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky), an unfortunate storyline because it limits Charlie and Marcy’s screen time together, and Handler’s and Adlon’s chemistry is one of the best things in the series (more so than Duchovny and McElhone’s).  Charlie spent most of the season in a relationship with nanny/aspiring actress Lizzie (Camilla Luddington), who provided a great deal of Californication‘s season allotment of nudity and turned out to be just another ruthlessly ambitious wannabe movie star.  
Californication still does quite well for Showtime, and it’s already been renewed for next season.  It’s a comfortable show, anchored by Duchovny’s low-key, charming sarcasm, McElhone’s classy beauty and the antics of Handler and Adlon.  Doubtless we’ll get more scenes of Hank making cow eyes at Karen while indie rock plays on the soundtrack, and more of the familiar Hollywood satire, but it would be nice if next time around, the show took some risks and brought in new challenges for Hank (and Duchovny).  Unfortunately, the promising story thread this year that involved Carla Gugino as Hank’s lawyer didn’t last long, but that’s the kind of character the show could use.  Without some meaningful new blood, Californication runs the risk of lapsing into terminal dissipation.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."