January 9, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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CALIFORNICATION has been a fairly reliable performer for Showtime, although not a breakout hit (last season, airing at 9PM, it was doing around a 0.2 in 18-49s, about the same as The Big C and a little below the network’s other signature comedies Weeds and Nurse Jackie).  It returns for its 5th season in a new 10:30PM slot, after Showtime’s premiering House of Lies
WHERE WE LEFT OFF:  After screwing up his life, career and family in Los Angeles for 4 seasons, novelist and screenwriter Hank Moody (David Duchovny) was moving back to New York, thousands of miles away from the estranged love of his life Karen (Natascha McElhone) and their teen daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin).  Meanwhile, Hank’s best buddy and agent Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) found out he was going to be a father, albeit with his ex-wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon), who was now with big-shot producer Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky).

WHERE WE ARE:  3 years, more or less, have passed since we last saw Hank and his comrades.  Hank himself has written what appears to be a successful memoir of his life in LA (called, coyly, “Californication”), and as we re-meet him, he’s about to have an ugly break-up with his girlfriend of 1 year (played all-too-briefly, unless they find a way to bring her back, by Justified‘s Natalie Zea).  Hank returns to LA to try and get a screenwriting job with the rapper Samurai Apocalypse (RZA) who wants to get into movies, and is already poised to hook up with Samurai’s girlfriend (Meagan Good), with whom Hank had a meet-cute on the plane to LA.
In domestic news, Karen is now seemingly happily marred to Richard (Jason Bates), and the two are raising Becca, who is now attending college and having sex with a 24-year old boyfriend who both Hank and Richard consider a douchebag (Karen is quick to point out that the lad resembles no one so much as a young Hank).  Charlie, meanwhile, is sharing custody of his and Marcy’s son, who doesn’t speak and who has a bad habit of wandering into Marcy and Stu’s most intimate moments.  
The main thematic pull of Californication has always been Hank’s passionate yearning for Karen, and the endlessly self-destructive ways he’s made their relationship futile, so it’ll be interesting to see how the show deals with her being in an apparently settled marriage with a decent guy.  The same goes for the Marcy/Runkle relationship, now that she seems firmly together with Stu.  The season premiere, written by series creator Tom Kapinos and directed by Showtime house helmer John Dahl, does a brisk job of bringing everyone back together, although the plotline with Samurai Apocalypse and his girlfriend doesn’t seem hugely promising at first glance.  By the show’s standards, the season premiere is mostly character-based, with a sex quotient that’s relatively modest; one assumes that will change as the season continues.
The cast of Californication continues to be stalwart.  Duchovny does a great job conveying the mix of world-weariness, sarcasm, self-indulgence and often fruitless hope that drives Hank, and McElhone manages to keep Karen’s complicated feelings for Hank believable.  Handler and Adlon are simply two of the most valuable supporting cast members on television (Adlon is also superb in her recurring role on Louie), funny, outrageous and yet also somehow grounded.  
Californication isn’t great television, but it’s been an entertaining, engrossing ride since it started, a little darker and more romantic than Entourage ever bothered to be, and sparked by a uniformly fine cast.  If the show can continue to find stories worth telling, there’s no reason it shouldn’t keep going on Showtime’s slate.


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."