Californication – Season 4
It was business as usual for the sex-and-fumes addled David Duchovny in the latest rebirth of Showtime’s controversial but widely popular series Californication, which is both surprising and a little disorienting considering the cataclysmic meltdown that erupted in the final moments of last season finale’s cliffhanger ending. Last we heard, Hank Moody, Duchovny’s character, had set himself up for a major shitstorm: having only just confessed to his sometimes-life-partner Karen (played by the towering English beauty, Natascha McElhone), that he had picked up, screwed and then written a novel about screwing her ex-fiancé’s 16-year-old daughter – the boyfriend of whom he had brutally battered only minutes before – Moody went on to add assaulting an officer to his rap-sheet. Uh oh.
However, what we discover in the opening moments of Sunday’s episode is that all that drama was nothing but a thang. It only takes a few vitriolic words from Karen – accusing Hank of putting his “d**k in a girl that’s the same age as [his daughter]” – before the plot resumes its playful exploration of how much of an asshole can Hank Moody be while remaining roguishly lovable, while any consideration of what had seemed the apocalypse is shelved for a later time. Seemingly without any remorse for, or preoccupation with, having betrayed his family, Hank goes on to both insult and come on to his lawyer, sign on to rewrite (and relive) the screen adaption of his literary re-imagining of his teen dalliance, bluntly titled F*cking and Punching and eventually ends
up cuddling with his perennial bald-headed best bud, Charlie Runkle, with whom he exchanges the usual witty banter to hilarious effect.
Even though I’ve been an avid fan over the years of Duchovny’s misadventures (on and off the screen), at this point in the show my once abundant reserve of sympathy is drying up. Because despite the producers having positioned Hank time and time again
as a great guy “at heart,” the purported sincerity of his remorse is becoming increasingly difficult to stomach – especially when you pair his good humored antics throughout this episode with his pursuit and eventual conquest of the lovely Addison Timlin, who
plays Sasha Bingham, a “f*cking movie star” interested in the role of “Mia” in the filmic adaption of F*cking and Punching. And what could be a more fitting way of revealing Hank’s insincerity (to the detriment of the producer’s best efforts) then for him to re-enact his original sin with apparently no pangs of conscious or even a little guilt: just as the interlocked subjects are in medias res, egged on by Moody, Timlin’s character acts out the infamous “punch” (way back when in the first season, the real Mia had punched Hank in the face in the same way under the same circumstances).
Which brings me to a more serious complaint. The sex scene between Moody and Timlin’s character is disturbing in a way a sex scene should never be: I was dead bored. While Timlin’s character bobs mechanically over Hank, the two conduct a blase conversation – I mean, give me a break! Hank is supposed to be some sort of lady-whisperer and a god in bed, and this is what his passion looks like? Like two disinterested commuters chatting absentmindedly about the weather to each other on a train? The truth is, I really can’t complain if the show wishes to ignore the difficult social issues boiling up just under the show’s slick Los Angeles veneer. Because parables aside, at its core Californication has always, albeit a well-written script and a lot of laughs, been selling sex – I mean when “fornication” is part of the title, they should be able to deliver on that at least.
What’s at stake here is the direction of the show, and the producers will need to make a choice – will they indulge Moody’s darker side, thus entertaining us with his ever-downward-spiraling mischievous sexual encounters, or will the good-hearted Moody finally break free of his cycle of self-destruction. Because the worst thing is not that the show delves into the nether regions of the emotional and social train wreck that is Hank Moody, it’s that it refuses to engage with that dialogue of self-destruction – it tries to have it both ways, deeply emotional and pleasantly comical.
What could be a rich source of much-needed depth for a show distinctly lacking in emotional nuance is cravenly ignored. In the penultimate scene, for example, Hank dreams of Karen and his daughter, watching like a ghost as they physically act out their rage at him – Karen throwing Hank’s novel, his daughter smashing her room up with her guitar – all to the ghostly tremors of post-rock duo Hammock’s Andalusia. It’s all very touching, yes, but without a hiccup of dialogue or a modicum restraint on the part of the actors, it does nothing more than conjure up from the dead exaggerated tropes and clichés. It’s as if the producers were simply going down a list – scandal, check; character remorse, check; emotional catharsis, check. And to seal the deal, the following scene,
in which he meanders through Bingham’s apartment butt-naked, chatting jovially with Runkle about their latest sexual endeavors, completely dispels any semblance of his remorseful reflection.
Crappy sex and histrionic displays of emotion are no way to kick-off the new season and leave us wondering if the producers even care any more, or are they just riding the Duchovny horse (Stallion?) into the ground, reaping what ratings they can on the way
down. Let’s hope not, because it was damn funny while it lasted.