April 7, 2013



In its sixth season, Showtime’s CALIFORNICATION barely tried to achieve forward motion.  Every year, occasional novelist and full-time satyr Hank Moody (David Duchovny) toys with reform (which barely lasts an episode), and amidst his always-busy substance abuse and sexual exploits, he pines for his lost love and ex-wife Karen (Natascha McElhone), the (mostly) level-headed balance to Hank’s inability to sidestep any and all vices.  Meanwhile, the cartoon version of the couple (literally referred to as “Fred and Ethel Mertz” in this year’s season finale) consists of their respective best friends Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler), who also serves as Hank’s agent, and his ex-wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon), who bounce between break-up and reconciliation every season (this year it was a lurch to the latter).  The only nod the show made to the passage of time this year was in recognizing that Hank and Karen’s daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) is now qualified to participate in its favorite pastimes, those being sex, drugs and agonizing about one’s writing.

Instead of actually going anywhere, Californication tends to have Hank retrace his circles in a fresh setting-of-the-season.  There was the year he taught at a college, the year he tangled with the world of hip-hop, and so on.  This season was devoted to arena rock, mostly in the flamboyant person of Atticus Finch Fetch (Tim Minchin, rather amazingly also the composer/lyricist for Broadway’s new family smash Matilda), who made even Hank’s values seem stuffy and middle-class.  In theory, Hank and Atticus were working on a Broadway musical of their own, an adaptation of Hank’s famed novel, although that was never much more than a MacGuffin.  The other major character of the season was Faith (Maggie Grace), a celebrated groupie who, like Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane in Almost Famous, would prefer to be thought of as a muse.  She, of course, couldn’t resist Hank’s magnetism and mostly dormant talent, and became his semi-serious lady.

Part of the idea for this season, actually, was to build a spin-off series around Faith, most notably in a nearly standalone episode where she and Hank spent a night with her religious parents.  Grace was very appealing and charismatic throughout the season–if she’s not going to be a permanent fixture with Hank (which she’s not), the actress should be starring in somethingbut Showtime was probably right that Faith and the rock milieu weren’t enough to carry a series.

The season finale, written by series creator Tom Kapinos (he’s personally written every episode this season, which must keep the budget for writing staff down) and directed by Stephen Hopkins, didn’t go anywhere surprising, as it momentarily appeared that Hank might change his life, but he ended up heading toward Karen yet again.  (There was a moment where an elegiac scene involving a stoned Becca made me think something awful but dramatic might be about to happen to her, but no.)  Overall, season 6 had its share of amusing moments–thinking of Almost Famous, there was a strong, self-aware episode centering on a possible crash of Atticus’s private jet–but also tazing gags that could have been on any sitcom, and an increasing air of snug comfort, even laziness, around the whole enterprise.  It’s fair to say that Hank himself, like Californication, is mired in an endlessly repeating pattern (part of which is Hank moping about whether he’s mired in an endlessly repeating pattern), but it’s not as much fun to watch as it used to be.  Duchovny, McElhone, Handler and Adlon are all more than capable of rising to challenges–if they’d only get any.

Californication is still a pleasant enough watch, with witty and sexy moments, but by the end of the season finale, Faith seems a little weary of Hank Moody as he rides off Karenwards, and so, increasingly, are we.  The show’s been renewed for a 7th season, although its ratings are in decline (a 0.2 last Sunday in 18-49s, half of its hour-mate House of Lies‘ score, and with only 600,000 total viewers), and maybe this one should be its official finale.  Having a genuine destination in view could be what Californication needs for one final jolt–or snort, or shot.


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."