One of the crowning jewels in Showtime’s impressive slate of original programming, this sassy, sexy take on relationships in the new millennium started out as an deceptively layered hymm to the harmony of monogamy and the blissful intoxication of a happy marriage. Wearing the hat of a hip singles show, espousing the joy of hooking up, laced with copious amounts of gorgeous, naked flesh, those who stuck around found the balled of cynical writer Hank Moody to be one mourning the lost art of seduction, the death of romance, and pining for just a little bit of love in today’s lovemaking. A modern day libertine to be sure, Hank was a tortured soul who deep down just wanted to be with his wife, Karen.

Bidding goodbye to her at the end of season two, and with it the rock upon which the show is built, this misfiring third season has been one long, difficult search for some dramatic meat. In a real-world sense its entirely understandable for actress Natascha McElhone, whose husband suddenly and tragically passed away last year, to want to take some time, but in terms of the show it was a disaster. A rotating gallery of vague distractions, half-hearted love interests, and strange bedfellows are no substitute for a star-crossed lovers tale, and there is something oddly lazy and lowbrow about Hank’s exploits this season thus far.

Now a reluctant lecturer and out of favor in the publishing scene Hank’s found himself embroiled in a somewhat lazily-written circle of love featuring the worst in cliche male fantasies. There’s the impossibly sexy college girl ( Eva Amurri) – who moonlights as a stripper – eager to take a bite out of her professor; equally uninspired is the love struck teachers assistant (Diane Farr) who looks up to and respect him; rounding things out we have the sexually mature but frustrated Dean of the college (Embeth Davidtz) who desperately yearns for a little spice between the sheets. So far Hank has yet to really make up his mind, although Amurri is out in the lead, but faced with a buffet of all sides and no steak, he looks as disinterested as we are.

Elsewhere the ongoing domestic spat of Runkle and Marcie (Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon) is wearing painfully thin. Once the voice of Hank’s conscience, Runkle is now reduced to crass comic relief as a some kind of deranged serial masturbator, while Marcie has gone from a feisty sexpot to a shrill harpy its hard to generate sympathy for. You almost don’t want them to work it out. And, as guest stars go, Kathleen Turner’s oddly androgynous cougar (we’re being generous there) is less comic relief than she just outright vulgar. On the homefront the charmingly precocious Becca (Madeline Martin) has seemingly hit those terrible teenage growing pains, but so far her underwritten arc seems to consist of her texting non-stop and yelling "I hate you!" at the top of her lungs every time Hank walks into the room. Little Madeline Martin is certainly an actress deserving of some better material.

We can only hope that Karen’s recent return brings with it the intermittent focus that made the show such compulsive viewing. Lacking the acerbic wit of previous seasons and hamstrung by the necessity of pandering to the various pretender’s to Karen’s throne, Hank’s cocksure swagger is at times veering dangerously close to towards irritatingly smug. Far from irredeemable, much like its loveable rogue hero, Californication simply needs its head turned, and a renewed emphasis placed on exploring the growing divide between love and sex in today’s increasingly impersonal culture. Hey, here’s an idea – maybe Hank could, you know, write about it?

Starring: David Duchovney, Natascha McElhone, Madeline Martin, Evan Handler, Pamela Adlon, Eva Amurri, Kathleen Turner

Created By: Tom Kapinos

Network: Showtime

Airtime: Sundays, 10:00pm EST