June 30, 2014

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Californication”


CALIFORNICATION knew going in that this 7th season would be its last, and we’ve grown used to series in that position, from Breaking Bad to Friends to–God help us–Lost, making a special effort to provide a final run with extra impact, tying up loose ends and providing a summation of what the show has been about all along.  Californication, always a tad too cool for school, did little of that until the last few minutes of tonight’s series finale.

The first 11 1/2 or so of the season’s 12 half-hours were, for the most part, just another season.  Exactly as previous years had placed bad-boy novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) in the world of movies, or music, or college, Season 7 was Hank Goes to TV.  And even though one would think that series creator Tom Kapinos, Duchovny and the rest of the staff would know more about television than any of the other fields they’d covered, the approach was just as superficial as ever.  Hank’s series was a spin-off of the script he’d written in Season 5 for the movie Santa Monica Cop (one of the few good in-jokes was that Brandon T. Jackson, the actor who played the quasi-Eddie Murphy character on the TV-show-within-the-show, was in real life cast as Eddie Murphy’s son in CBS’s junked Beverly Hills Cop pilot), with Michael Imperioli as showrunner Rick Rath, who cynically raged at the network, the cast and his writers, all of whom were idiots in one way or another.

The season’s big plot development was the revelation that Hank had unknowingly fathered a son 20 years earlier by his then-girlfriend Julia (Heather Graham), from whom, the show was at pains to point out, he had broken up before he’d met the official Love Of His Life, Karen (Natascha McElhone).  Hank’s newly discovered son was Levon (Oliver Cooper), a blobby young man who was alternately clinging and hostile, and who, this being Californication, had issues with farting, prostitutes and his MILFy mother.  (He would have made more sense as the son of Charlie Runkle, Hank’s BFF played by Evan Handler.)  Unlike Hank’s full-on daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), Levon was barely more than the occasion of humor about how endlessly inappropriate he was.

With Becca out of town for most of the season, and surprisingly little of Karen, the season mostly revolved around the Hank/Julia/Levon relationship.  The B story was, as ever, the territory of Charlie and his once-and-again lady love Marcy (Pamela Adlon), which for episode after episode was concerned with whether or not their financial problems would cause Marcy to accept the $1M indecent proposal of ex-husband Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky) for a round of sex.

The stories, such as they were, resolved in the final half-hour, written by Kapinos (who personally wrote all but a handful of episodes throughout all 7 seasons) and directed by Adam Bernstein.  Charlie and Marcy decided not to accept Stu’s proposal (although they kept the money), leaving him alone with his Marcy-replica sex doll.  (The interesting footnote to this story was the fact that Adlon had similar scenes in both of her series this year, as men in both Californication and Louie became overaggressive with her in ambiguous circumstances, while she insulted them away.  Here, of course, it was played strictly for laughs.)  Hank engineered Julia into a real date with Rick Rath, who’d been pursuing her all season, and Levon into a date with a cute girl who wasn’t for hire.  And after some handwringing, Hank went with Karen to Becca’s wedding in New York, and as “Rocket Man” played on the soundtrack, it seemed like the two of them were going to try it together yet one more time.

Californication was almost always a diverting half-hour.  Duchovny gave Hank something of a soul, McElhone managed to maintain Karen’s glow despite the character never being much more than a fantasy figure, and Handler and Adlon made the most of their cartoonish sidekick roles, and had great chemistry with each other and with their A-story counterparts.  Over the course of the show’s run, Madeleine Martin grew from a cute little kid intoto a precise deadpan comedienne, more than able to hold her own with Duchovny, who made all her scenes this season count, and the series has made good use of its strong guest stars.

There were points early in Californication when it seemed like Kapinos and Duchovny (not just the star, but an Executive Producer and sometime director of the series) wanted to be taken somewhat seriously, despite the happy debauchery on pay-cable display, as Hank displayed occasional self-knowledge and despair, and seemed to be expressing something about the creative life.  After a while, though, the series became like any veteran broadcast network show, repeating the same emotional beats over and over, except with four-letter words and nudity.  Ratings steadily declined, and it was time to pack up and go.  In the end, Californication stayed on its track, for all its aura of transgressiveness, reuniting married (or semi-married) couples and arguing for redemption and some form of the nuclear family.  One would like to think that Hank Moody would have had a choice few words to say about that.

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."