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'Californication': Summer of love

December 15, 2008 |  1:17 am

I'm supposed to write this blog, but I can't stop reading. One Web page takes me to the next, and then there's another, and then another. The clues arrive, stacking up on top of each other, and I'm beginning to realize that “Californication,” a show about a writer, is much like a book: The more you put in, the more you get out. Read it again and you'll discover many new things. Don't judge by the cover.

Happily and sadly, we came to the end of Chapter 2 on Sunday night, “Californication” ending its sophomore season in much the same way it ended its first: happily indeed, but with the “ever after” part still to be determined. It was Hank (David Duchovny) and Becca (Madeleine Martin), father and daughter, strolling down the Venice boardwalk beneath a cloudless sky. “I like it here,” Hank said. “The sun is chirping, the birds are shining, the water's wet. Life is good, sweetheart. Life is good.”

Never mind that Hank was ever so close to his supposed dream: Karen (Natascha McElhone) and Becca ... and New York. It was all there for him, a road trip away. But then Damien –- Becca's love -– showed up with an iPod and a playlist. “I love you, Becca Moody,” he said, and now that's romance.

“I feel kind of bad splitting them up right now,” Karen said to Hank as they packed up the car for the big move to the Big Apple, Karen having gotten a great job in New York.

Hank thought about it. “Well then, don't.”
“What do you mean?”
“You go, I stay.”
“Are you crazy? What –- you think I'd leave Becca behind?
“Well, I'm not gonna break her, I promise.”
“Hold on a second, what about you? You'd give up New York?”
“For her, yeah. At the end of the day, it's all about her. It's always been about her. What happens between us I can't ... control. Lord knows I've tried every which way. But what I can do is be the absolute best I can be for her. If I followed you to New York, I'd just be hoping against hope that we lived happily ever after. Maybe we do, maybe we don't, but you've got some ---- you've got to do, lady. I think you should do it. I'll hold down the fort. Keep her off the pole.”

She chuckled, gave him a kiss, said she loved him and the message was crystal: “Californication” is now revealing itself as a story about Hank and his daughter more so than about Hank and Karen, which is the tale we thought we were tuning into. And so Karen now goes while Hank and Becca remain, which is just as well, since "New Yorkifornication" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

And yes, I can see how some might be soured by the improbability of such a decision by Hank, however sweet, and by the fact that we thus now, still, remain in this very foggy place regarding the Hank-Karen relationship. Are they, or aren't they? Will they try the long-distance thing? The answers weren't so clear.

But I happen to appreciate this element. To me, their relationship is in many ways more realistic than much of what's on TV. People do move around, balancing the personal and the professional. They do fall in and out and in love again. And there are some, like Hank -– and maybe even Karen -– who realize that happy endings either aren't for them, or that happy endings can be many other things besides black and white.

Naturally, the perfect song played at the end and over the credits: “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas & the Papas. It's a song about the dream of California, written from the perspective of someone who's still somewhere else, where the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

And that's when I went exploring, reading up on the song; every artistic reference, we've learned, either proves poignant or prophetic with this show. But even I was surprised at where the following journey led: 

First, I looked up the background to “California Dreamin'” and found this: a really great NPR audio clip detailing the song's origin, which revealed that John and Michelle Phillips were in their first year of marriage when they wrote the famous tune. It happened in New York, in the winter of 1963, when John woke Michelle up in the middle of the night, needing her help to finish writing the song. Very Hank-Karen-esque, I thought to myself.

And while listening to the clip, it dawned on me that “Surfer Girl,” who showed up near the end of the finale and just before the song kicked in, had finally revealed her name: Michelle. And then I was tuning back in to Michelle Phillips on the NPR interview, and hearing that the Mamas & the Papas were actually given their big break when they sang “California Dreamin'” for a big-shot music producer by the name of Lou Adler, the head of Dunhill Records and a man who listened to music with his eyes closed in order to let the music soak into his ears.   

Hello, Lew Ashby.

Suddenly I was searching for all things Adler and found the following: a Wikipedia entry that said he was “a major playboy in the early 1960s and 1970s” (Lew Ashby, check); that he was a major player in the influential Laurel Canyon music scene of the '60s (Ashby lived in Laurel Canyon); that he owned the Roxy Theater in West Hollywood (which was a rival venue to the Troubadour, which Ashby frequented); and that he's the bearded guy (yep) who's always sitting beside buddy Jack Nicholson at Laker games. Bingo bango.

Oh, and he's written for us; I discovered this interesting piece Adler once penned for The Times about the 1967 “Summer of Love.” And that's about when I realized I needed to stop reading and start writing.

And so we've come to the end, ladies and gents. Another chapter filled, more pages to be turned.

Bonus Tracks:

-- Congratulations to David Duchovny, who was nominated for a Golden Globe again this year for lead actor (he won the award last year). "Californication" is also nominated in the comedy category.

-- The finale began with that wonderful sound of a typewriter –- sorry, that's the writer in me –- and the camera finally focused in on Hank, hammering away at the keys as he finished Lew Ashby's biography. “In the end, he died as he lived, on his own terms...,” Hank began, before eventually coming to THE END and launching into what's apparently the Hank Moody ritual: “every time I finish a book: whiskey, weed and Warren Zevon,” he told the ghost of Lew Ashby, with Zevon's “Keep Me In Your Heart” playing in the background. “It's the little things.”

-- The black baby. I guess Maury Povich won't be needed here. Just ... wow.

-- Will Moody ever fix his broken headlight? Here's hoping that he won't. An interesting fact about Charles Bukowski, to whom Moody is often likened: He used to drive around in a car with a cracked windshield from a time in which he drove so recklessly that a terrified woman in his passenger seat put her heel into the glass to brace herself. “It's a nice design, I like it,” Bukowski said of the crack in the documentary, “Born Into This.” “The car is beginning to look like me,” the author said.

--The lovely but evil Mia (Madeline Zima) is heading off on a book tour. Perhaps somewhere in this country, she'll find her father.... The book tour also could be a good storyline idea for Hank next season  too.

-- Speaking of which, arriving in bookstores next August, apparently, will be God Hates Us All, by Hank Moody. Amazon lists it at 288 pages, a paperback. I have no idea what this is, nor can I quantify my excitement. This also got me thinking: What books would Hank Moody like? I'll offer up a suggestion by going back into the Bukowski well: “Ham on Rye,” the autobiographical novel about Bukowski's childhood. Any suggestions out there? I'm in need of a good read, and we could start our own little “Californication” book club with all the free time we now have.

-- I'm not sure which was funnier: Hank likening Julian to Sir Francis Drake, or to "the bearded woman.”

-- For kicks, I timed Charlie Runkle's little rendezvous with Daisy. He clocked in at 4.8 seconds.

More artistic references: Hank likened the previous no-name policy he shared with “Surfer Girl” to the saucy Marlon Brando pic, “Last Tango in Paris.” ... Just to make sure we realized that this season was all about rock 'n' roll, the band T-shirts were everywhere. Hank sported a Motley Crue, the ghost of Lew Ashby sported a shirt for The Kinks and Becca rocked one for Slipknot.

-- Josh Gajewski