“I’m a writer. I think, I type, I drink. Lather, rinse, repeat. Far as I’m concerned, art’s just a guy from Brooklyn.”
– Hank Moody
I must admit that "Californication" (which returned last Sunday on Showtime for a sixth season) escaped me when it debuted in the summer of 2007. Truthfully, it seems like an eternity ago. After all, Showtime wasn't exactly the place you went to for cutting-edge TV. Or so I thought.
At the time, bragging rights for edgy and quality TV belonged exclusively to HBO. And as for AMC, their quality drama "Mad Men" only premiered two months before and "Breaking Bad" had yet to even air. "The Walking Dead" was a mere pipe-dream at that point.
I suppose the biggest reason that "Californication" wasn't on my radar was that it just reeked of senseless T&A with the lines blurring between star David Duchovny's real-life sexual addiction and main character Hank Moody. The promos didn't help. In fact, it wasn't doing the show any favors. Those materials made the show seem like a low-rent "Entourage," which was in the middle of it's successful seven year run. It seemed like a no-brainer. If you wanted a breezy, Hollywood-set dramedy chock full of sun, sex and Hollywood satire, HBO is just where one went.
Again, was I wrong. My deepest apologies to showrunner Tom Kapinos.
So what's it about exactly? I'll quote guest star Rob Lowe, who portrays bonkers A-list actor Eddie Nero, as he describes protagonist Hank's Moody novel "Fucking and Punching." In essence, he nailed it: "It's about a guy trying to keep it together while falling apart. It's about life, love, sex and the ever-lurking presence of the grim fucking reaper. ... it's about the motherfucking dark side." THAT'S "CALIFORNICATION."
After blazing through all five seasons in under a month, I'm come down to the conclusion that it's woefully underrated. Silly tits and ass aside, it can be both damned hilarious and downright poignant. Here's five reasons why:
I wasn't a fan of "The X-Files" and truthfully have never really absorbed anything with Duchovny so I had no frame of reference. As New York transplant and novelist Hank Moody, Duchovny explodes in the role as the poor man's Bukowski who cavorts his way through a town he truly despises.
The actor plays his writer as the guy every man wants to be. Handsome, careless, reckless (plus he can order a drink cooler than any character on TV). Hank loves his whiskey. Women flock to him. He doesn't care much about anything and, above all, the one-liners seem to flow easily. He's the most likeable prick on TV. To quote his baby mama Karen (the gorgeous Natascha McElhone), he's a "fabulous fuck up."
Since the debut, Duchovny has been nominated for a slew of awards as Moody and took home the Best Actor in a Comedy Golden Globe in 2007.
Enjoy this scene in which Hank tries to diplomatically break up with season five main squeeze Carrie (Natalie Zea of "Justified").
KAREN AND HANK
At the heart of "Californication" is the on- and off-again relationship between Hank and Karen (McElhone), the earnest mother of his daughter. Hank's love for Karen is deeply profound and to a fault. The show excels and strays as far away from comedy as one can imagine when these two try to navigate the waters of coexisting - especially when it comes to their teenage daughter Becca (the droll Madeleine Martin).
Take in this scene (a favorite) from the season 3 finale in which Hank confesses to Karen about something awful that he's done - something much, much worse than mere cheating. It's simply one of the most powerful scenes, sans dialogue, that I've ever seen on TV.
As Hank's agent Charlie Runkle, Evan Handler is a comic genius. Think of sad sack Runkle as the anti-Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), the uber-agent on "Entourage." Where Ari had bravura, Runkle is the sap. Who else but Runkle would get fired for chronic masturbation? At the heart of his character, though, is his deep caring for Hank, whom he always looks out for. Their goofy friendship is one of the main backbones of the show.
Enjoy this scene in which Runkle admits something a tad twisted to Hank. For shits and giggles, watch THIS.
"Californication" boasts stupendous guest stars: Rob Lowe shows up as a very Brad Pitt-like A-list actor; Rick Springfield as an asshole version of himself; Carla Gugino as a vampy defense attorney; Justine Bateman as a MILFY mom; Drea D'Matteo as a batshit crazy stripper; Kathleen Turner as a grizzled agent; and RZA as hip-hop mogul and rapper.
Enjoy this scene where insane Eddie Nero explains "the motherfucking dark side" to Hank and why he likes him so much.
HANK THE LETTER WRITER
No one can craft a letter like Hank Moody. It seems that when he's is at his worst or when he truly feels either misunderstood or boxed in, he turns to his typewriter and crafts a good, old-fashioned letter, an act he says is "A lost art... Like hand jobs."
Enjoy these three quick videos in which we see hank crafting said letters as well as the fallout from one of them.
Again, "Californication" excels, for me at least, when it takes a turn towards the dramatic.