Friday, August 26, 2011

Quick Takes: Californication Seasons 1-4

A morning of awkwardness is far better than a night of loneliness....

I'm thrilled to see that David Duchovny is no longer typecast as Fox Mulder. It was such an iconic role, I couldn't shake that persona from him when I saw him in features after The X-Files went off the air. Now, Duchovny is a refreshing joy as Hank Moody in Showtime's filthy, hilarious and heartbreaking dramedy, Californication (2007-present). I had the pleasure of watching the show's first four seasons on Netflix and Showtime On Demand in the past month. It's messy and terrific, and I'm sorry it took me this long to catch up with it.

Hank Moody is a man child, but an effortlessly charming one at that. He was born to play this part, and frankly, I think he has a lot more fun with it than he did with Mulder. He'll sleep with any woman that crosses paths with him; his lawyer, his students, his fans, his ex's illegal-age stepdaughter. Actually, to Hank's defense, he didn't know Mia was of illegal age nor did he know she was the daughter of the man his ex-girlfriend was engaged to. That's the problem with Hank. He gets himself into sticky situations that defy explanation and reason. How is he going to get out of this one?, we're constantly wondering.

His childish antics would have grown tiresome by the end of the first season if he didn't have such a strong support group around him. His family grounds him, and he knows that. Deep down, he knows he is a lucky bastard that his beautiful on-again off-again soulmate Karen continues to be on speaking terms with him. She gets him. She can't stand him, but she gets him. The stunning Natascha McElhone is remarkable as Karen, an otherwise smart and sensible woman who cannot seem to let go of Hank Moody. We're pissed off along with her at his indiscretions, but we completely understand her attraction to Hank.

If I can make you laugh like that, then why can't we be together? That's what I don't understand.

One thing that makes Hank a completely relatable character is his love and devotion to his daughter Becca, whose unstable home makes her life a heightened emotional roller coaster. Madeleine Martin plays Becca with a very disaffected voice, which can be a challenge to listen to. I can't tell if this is how the actress speaks, but she has a very grating presence and is arguably the show's weakest link. But I really like her character and how she interacts with her wandering, indecisive parents. The writers have done a wonderful job making Becca's teenage woes integral to Hank's daily struggle to make things right.

Then of course we have the Runkles, as hilariously played by Evan Handler (Charlie) and Pamela Adlon (Marcy). These two are Hank and Karen's best friends and are equally dysfunctional and star-crossed. They provide most of the show's raunchy humor, which perfectly counterbalances with Hank's more serious legal and domestic woes. Charlie and Marcy, if nothing else, are loyal to their best friends and, as I stated earlier, the group's bond anchors Californication, preventing it from becoming overtly crude or slapsticky.

Some of my favorite moments in the show's first four seasons:

*When Charlie gets caught masturbating in his office, he exclaims: "It was just the one time!" Then we see videos of him pleasuring himself in every possible position/location in the room. Evan Handler's sexual expressions are priceless. "I'm ankling! Runkle is ankling!"

*Rick Springfield starts out as the butt of a few jokes and actually turns into an intriguing character. That Marcy ends up screwing Springfield is only icing on the cake.

*After suiting up for his trial, Hank looks into the mirror and says, "I look like a f**king FBI agent." How can you not find that ridiculously cute?

*I know Charlie's porn industry arc in season 2 was just an excuse for titillation but man, did they have some classic zingers here. My favorite: Hank meets the legendary director of Vaginatown. "I'm a big fan. What's next for you? A Cockwork Orange, or perhaps Twenty-Sixty-Nine: A Sit-On-My-Face Odyssey?"

*Fisher Stevens shows up as a money man who wants to produce Hank's new movie. In this instant classic episode, not only does Stevens accidentally kill himself via autoerotic asphyxiation, but Charlie inadvertently murders the man's monkey. Californication is a rare show; it can be ridiculously silly one minute and heartbreaking the next.

*Callum Keith Rennie is fantastic in a season long arc as Lew Ashby, Hank's muse for his new novel. The two guys become close friends and their relationship ends suddenly in a surprisingly bittersweet manner. Nicely handled.

*Other notable guest stars: Kathleen Turner's filthy-mouthed agent Sue Collini with the hots for Charlie, Rob Lowe hamming it up as actor Eddie Nero, playing Hank's alter ego in a movie, and Stephen Tobolowsky is terrific as a lovesick producer who has fallen for Marcy. The quality of the parade of guest stars and supporting actors on this show is a sweet bonus.

Of course, all of this is not to detract attention from Duchovny himself. He's really quite perfect here as Hank Moody, a man with many conflicting morals and ideals. He's a man who refuses to grow up. He's like a puppy dog, making you believe that eventually, if he doesn't stop f**king around with his owner (Karen), maybe, just maybe, he'll behave himself.

You want to believe in Hank Moody like Fox Mulder believes in the little green men.

I look forward to season 5 in January.

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