January 13, 2013



CALIFORNICATION:  Sunday 10:30PM on Showtime

Even in the relatively free-and-easy world of paycable, there’s something about CALIFORNICATION that seems to get under people’s skin.  Perhaps it’s the casual tone of the show’s debauchery, or the way it implicates viewers in its hedonism with its tendency toward soft-core porn.  In any case, it’s probably the most disapproved-of series on the air (that is, among “scripted” shows–there’s no shame at all in the “reality” sphere), and as such deserves some support.

That being said, the Season 6 premiere, written by series creator Tom Kapinos and directed by star David Duchovny, is not immediately promising.  When we last saw dissipated antihero Hank Moody (Duchovny), he was an involuntary part of the murder/suicide overdose plan hatched by crazy ex Carrie (Natalie Zea).  Since that wasn’t the last episode of the series, we fade in to discover that the murder part of the plot didn’t quite work, and Hank is in the hospital.  However, he’s so emotionally wrenched by Carrie’s fate and his responsibility that he all but does the job for her, drinking himself to death to an extent that’s impressive even by his high standards.  By the end of the episode, Hank is in rehab, which will apparently be the one of the major settings for the season.  Once he’s out, the other plot strand introduced involves the composition of a Broadway rock opera to be based on one of Hank’s novels by superstar Atticus Fetch (Tim Minchin), a prospect Hank doesn’t appreciate at all.

That rock -and-roll plot, at least in its early going, feels awfully similar to the year that Hank ghostwrote the memoirs of rock legend Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie).  And the prospect of Hank in rehab for any extended period brings the show into territory well traveled already by movies and TV.  After 6 seasons, it feels like Californication is starting to clutch at ways and reasons to keep going, as Hank’s beloved ex Karen (Natascha McElhone) and the possibility of a normal-ish life with Karen and daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) is always one leap away, like the mechanical rabbit on a dog track.  The season premiere tries to jump-start some shock with a belt from something in a whiskey bottle that isn’t whiskey and some vomit, but fans of the show have been here before.

The cast continues to go through its paces expertly.  Duchovny handles subtle gradations of Hank’s bleary misery and jaunty self-disgust, McElhone manages to convince us that she still finds ways not to give up on her errant ex, and Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon, as the Jack-and-Karen part of the leading foursome (i.e., the pair who handle all the really outrageous humor) are crucially funny.  One advantage of the show lasting this long is that Becca is now able to take some part in the adult goings-on as well, with the right to curse and engage in bad relationships of her own.  (However, it seems a lazy idea that she now wants to follow so specifically in her father’s novel-writing footsteps.)

Californication is still entertaining, but comedies that rely on provocations age faster than those that are more sedate.  Considering that the series is no longer a particular audience driver for Showtime (hovering around a 0.4 rating in 18-49s), it may be time to start moving Hank toward his final hangover.

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."