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Today, a "Californication" caucus

November 2, 2008 | 10:31 pm

My head is spinning, “Californication” fans. I'm eating tracking polls for breakfast, fumbling with online electoral maps and hearing David Gergen in my sleep. Simply put, I have a problem. But maybe that's why I enjoyed this week's “Californication” so much. It wasn't particularly high-minded or substantive, which in the past may have led me to huff and puff a little bit. But this time, I desperately needed the trouble-making antics of Hank (David Duchovny) and Charlie (Evan Handler), and each of them delivered mightily.

But more on this week a little later. For now ... a caucus!

Remember that word? We heard it so often in the primaries, starting in Iowa, and in my election state of mind this week I decided to bring it back one last time. “Californication” has now reached the halfway point of Season 2, and I thought I'd bring in fellow enthusiasts to discuss the show's highs, lows and prospects.

I simply asked five questions to each, and I welcome you to weigh in as well.

What are your thoughts on the season so far?

The musician: Two cliche, yet very accurate, words -- sophomore slump. What carried this show in Season 1 is not only missing in the production of this season, but it's even missing in the plot -- writing. The writing has become mostly predictable, somewhat boring, and the main character -– a writer -- isn't writing. His insight and reflections via his Hell-A Magazine blog once summed up the happenings of these innovative plot lines in a way that Doogie Howser, Carrie Bradshaw and Meredith Grey will never know. We need access back into Hank's head. Now. The storylines have been dull and drawn out. But as is the truth with many contemporary plot-driven shows, especially cable shows (“The Sopranos,” “Weeds” and “Dexter” alike), storylines have been drawn out, only to end with huge payoffs by season's end. Season 2 seems to be filled with these possibilities and I'm counting on the writers -- who, which they proved last season, are so much more talented than most of the writers on TV right now -- not to let me down.

The schoolteacher: While this season has become predictable at best and raunchy at worst, I forgive it because it still delights and offers a temporary escape more than most shows these days. I don't even mind the offensive, perverted antics of the first few episodes because it shows the writers taking a risk, and I prefer failure over safety any time. The episodes that followed led me to believe the creators knew they went too far and reeled in a little to show the softer side of Hank's family. Then they succeeded in multitude with the dinner party. I couldn't stop laughing at the Runkles, or as Hank refers to them, "Sid and Nancy” [referencing Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen]. ... As sad as it is, I'm glad Hank and Karen split up, because it just makes for more entertainment with the prevalence of Lew Ashby, and that long-anticipated reunion of Hank's family we are still rooting for.

The writer (that's me, folks): This season has been like the stock market of late: volatile, testing the bottoms, an occasional huge rally (told you I've been watching too much CNN). I'm not yet sure whether to officially call it a sophomore slump, but this season just hasn't held the magic of the first, sometimes trying a bit too hard to wow us with a scandalous sex scene or a joke that's felt more forced than funny. To be frank, the show just feels dirtier this season, and the sweet moments between Hank and his family that always counterbalanced the dirty last season just haven't been there, thus making me feel as if I need a shower after most episodes.

What's your favorite moment and/or storyline so far?

The musician: Hank Moody, Version 2.0. He's a new Hank. He's a better man, a gentleman even, a better father, and a man hurting for a chance at monogamy. This isn't the Hank we know and love, but I love it because I know it's setting us up for his eventual crash and reboot to Hank Moody, Version 1.0. And when it happens, when his ship crashes into the iceberg, his sink to the bottom could be the most entertaining television Showtime has ever produced. People scrambling for lifeboats, a couple running wild to live or die together, even a string quartet playing music in the background to keep everyone at ease while chaos surrounds them.

The schoolteacher: The dinner party, of course, and all the "Sid and Nancy" antics of the Runkles. Also, I know I am in the unpopular group here, but I am loving Lew Ashby. Possibly because my favorite book was "The Great Gatsby." See the similarities? Lew is fun, has seemingly everything, but is miserable because he doesn't have that one missing thing, his true love. I couldn't tolerate Lew if he wasn't miserable. I am eagerly anticipating Hank's book about the guy and kind of hoping he meets the same ending as Gatsby. ... I also love anything to do with Becca. Brilliant actress and character.

The writer: That dinner-party episode, from start to finish, was perfect. Bookended by Hank's rather humorous proposal, and then the very sad but honest breakup, it was the smartest episode of the season when it could have easily been horrible, considering just how crowded that dinner table was. ... As for my favorite overall storyline, I've got to say that Becca's budding relationship with the boy next door, Damien, shows really great potential. That sweet teenage love contrasts nicely with the more childlike behavior of the adults around her and also puts Hank in that delightfully awkward father-daughter position. A classic Hank moment arrived when Damien first came to his door, asking for Becca: “You like the rap music? What about Roe v. Wade?”

What about your least favorite moment and/or storyline so far?

The musician: Charlie Runkle, porn agent/producer. I hope this has a big payoff at the end. Right now, it's a bit gratuitous and boring. The lowest of the low was riding in the “Slam Van”; the highest of the high was Charlie's debut as a porn star (but still, it was pretty juvenile).

The schoolteacher: When Destiny showed up with Lew at the dinner party. It's one thing to be accidentally violated at an after-party, but to go to the offender's house ... with the man who laughed about it? As a woman, that offended me. Not because of Hank's mistake but because of the low self-esteem displayed by Lew's groupie.

The writer: This one's easy: Chloe Metz. She was a freight train of annoyance that went from Lew's TV screen to Lew's kitchen, proving to us once more the lame reality that Lew can get a woman – for him or for Hank – any time, any place. She slept with our hero in a snap, then mysteriously lost her Southern twang in her heart-to-heart with him later. As I wrote to the schoolteacher recently, “It surprises me that you like Lew so much, because here is my own reason for not liking him: He's a manwhore, like Hank, with a battered heart, like Hank, but the one key difference is that he's not a gentleman, like Hank. He's got no class, charisma or charm, whereas I think Hank actually has those things, which makes us want to follow him everywhere... I like the actor who plays the character Lew (Callum Keith Rennie); I just don't like the character himself. Nothing about him makes me 'root' for him, which I think we need even in our villains or more unsavory characters.”

Favorite quote?

Musician:
Guy on a scooter: “Oh, yeah? You ever here of a prolapsed rectum?”
Hank: “Rectum? Damn near killed him!”

The schoolteacher:
"Sid and Nancy," as I've mentioned.

And when Damien was at the front door being grilled by Hank. "Why should I let you in?"
Damien: "Because those two are scaring me” [pointing to the Runkles, making out].

The writer: I'll cheat and list several ...

Hank, on bended knee, proposing: “I love you, Karen, and I want to spend the rest of my life annoying the ---- out of you.”

Hank, finding Charlie in the bathroom, coked out and wearing nothing but boxers and a plastic bib: “What's with the bib, bub?”
Charlie: “I had some crustaceans.”

Charlie, floating on Ecstasy, awkwardly rubbing Julian's pants: “That's a very nice material, what is that? Is that a linen or...?”

Julian, probably better known as the uber-weird and spiritual “Artist Within,” discussing Sonja's pregnancy at the dinner table: “When we met, Sonja was already pregnant. I could smell it on her.”

What would you want to see in the second half?

The musician: The payoffs. I want Lew Ashby to be either a pivotal character in Hank's slow sink to the bottom, or the character of substance that wows viewers with a cliffhanger or (preferably) a fitting denouement. ... I want Charlie to save his wife from death and himself from porn -- unless they find some clever way to save Marcy from death by means of porn. ... Finally, I want Hank to just lose it. I want him to break down from a snowball of things, including his failed relationship with Karen, the reality of his new kid with Sonja, and maybe even from Becca going off on an anti-Hank tangent. Perhaps all he's left with is a bottle in one hand and Lew Ashby's key to wasteland in the other. To contrast last season's picture-perfect ending, maybe this season sends Hank off to the dogs in the worst possible state, like the second act of an opera, or the end of “Empire Strikes Back.” Freeze him in carbonite, send him to Jabba the Hut and have him wait in complete hibernation until his proverbial Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia come to his rescue.

The schoolteacher: I want Mia to fall for Lew and be a miserable heartbroken groupie. ... I want Hank to write a modern-day “Gatsby” about Ashby, and I already mentioned the similar ending I'd like.  ... And I want more of Becca.

The writer: A few ideas. First, Bill's return. Why? Because someone like that -– more of a stark contrast, a “dial-tone,” proved to be a much better foe for Hank to play off of than Lew, who is sometimes a villain, sometimes a friend, but always feels more like Hank's evil big brother. And Bill, who saw his wife stolen away by Hank, is involved in publishing, so some good storylines could come of it. ... I'd also like to see Hank punch Lew in the face, just once ... And more than anything, I share the same thought as the musician in wanting to see and hear Hank's words again. In his Hell-A blogs last season, those words connected his crazy life to his work, illustrating how each needed the other. Those moments always reconnected us to the reality of this being a show about a truth-telling writer who happens to be promiscuous, rather than a manslut who lives in a rock 'n' roll world ... and, oh yeah, he once was a writer. ... Last thing: How about a sexual dry spell for Hank? Let's admit it, people –- that's a reality we can all relate to a bit easier, and I realize that this show has a sort of prerequisite sex factor, but how funny would it be to see the girls flocking away from Hank rather than toward him? I'll never forget the hilarious “Seinfeld” episode where George and Elaine stop having sex, and the effect on each is profound –- George becoming a genius and Elaine becoming an imbecile. What would a sexless world do to Hank? To his mind? To his writing? Oh, the possibilities....

As for Sunday's episode ... It was good to see the Mia-as-the-fraud-writer storyline return, and it seems like she is in fact going through with publishing the book since there's a Rolling Stone writer shadowing her. But we still haven't gotten any clear details about publication and Hank seems relatively nonchalant, so it still feels like somewhat of a forgotten storyline, at least in fiction, if not in fact. Mia was also the big reveal at the end of the episode, walking out of Lew's bedroom, much to Hank's dismay. He'd told Lew in a prior episode that Mia was jailbait, but the producer –- and this also goes back to my argument of Lew basically being an awful person -– seems to have ignored the fact.

Artistic references: This week, Charlie likened his coke-snorting wife to Amy Winehouse, and I think you know why ... Hank called Mia and company “The sisterhood of the traveling flannel,” obviously referencing the “Traveling Pants” franchise. ... And, perhaps more relative to the storyline than anything else, Lew at one point was wearing a T-shirt of the band the Dickies, who according to Wikipedia, were among the first punk rock bands to emerge from Los Angeles. “Drug problems slowed the Dickies down considerably in the 1980s,” says the entry, and the band was marred by tragedy when its keyboardist “committed suicide after a breakup with his girlfriend,” and later, its drummer died of a heroin overdose.

And now, back to “The Situation Room” ...

-- Josh Gajewski

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