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'Californication': Summer of love

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

Comments () | Archives (6)

and, though i'm not sure, i think damien was wearing an aerosmith t-shirt as well

Hi Josh,

I was looking up some info about the season finale (and the next season) and found your piece. What a great and insightful piece that you have researched and written. Love that NPR reference you've put in.

Keep up the great work.

P.S. I am saddened to find that Natascha McElhone (Karen) has lost her husband in May 2008 while being pregnant with their third child. As a big fan of her work (since the Truman Show days), could this has been the reason why she will be less involved in season 3?

Thank you so much, once again, for your blog coverage of this show. I've been with it since day one, back in August 2007, and it's been a hell of a ride. There simply isn't enough in depth critical appreciation for it, which is why I look forward to your posts on it every week. I certainly hope you'll continue to cover the show next year.

I loved the finale this year, for all the reasons listed here and more, and was very satisfied by the character arcs we've seen develop over the course of this season. Most especially Hank's, of course, as he really has grown tremendously since we first met him. I was especially satisfied to see Duchovny's original interpretation of Hank Moody come so much closer to realization; I remember him speaking about Hank when the show was first picked up, about how he saw some nobility in him, that Hank would be the one, in the end, that would be shown to be the hero; the one who spoke the truth in spite of everything, the one who in the end we would see was the glue that held his little family together. As a good friend pointed this out to me, I found myself just as glad as she that we're really starting to see his early vision of Moody come to life on the screen.

Loved all your research bits at the end as well, which just serve to show how layered the writing and seemingly innocuous music choices for this show can be. Bring on S3, Kapinos and crew!

Thanks, guys. Glad the extra research is appreciated - and I absolutely love the happy accident of a show about a writer getting you to READ a little about the show, beyond just watching it. I'm sure there were plenty of artistic references and such that I missed this season, too. ...

Kempton, I couldn't definitively say whether the potential of a lesser role for Natascha's McElhone next season has anything to do with her personal situation, but I'd highly doubt it. She still lives in Britain, and one of the big reasons she wanted to do 'Californication' in the first place was because it only took her away from home for three summer months each year, when her boys can actually join her. When I chatted with her about her trying year for an article published about a month back, it didn't seem at all like she was slowing down but in fact speeding up. In fact, I believe that at this very moment she's working on a film about James Miranda Barry, called "Heaven and Earth." Barry was Britain's first female surgeon, because she disguised herself as a man in the early 1800s. McElhone plays the lead role and the film, which is directed by Oscar winner Marleen Gorris, will be shot in both the U.K. and South Africa -- that doesn't sound like slowing down. I think her going to New York is just a storyline thing - and who's to say we won't still be seeing a lot of her? Scenes of her in New York, and perhaps Hank and Becca visiting, could be nice little reprieves from the streets and bars of Venice. The flashback to 90s New York this season was easily the most entertaining episode of the season, as far as I'm concerned.

Eleanore, thanks for your input all year. I do find it amusing that the more passionate responses all season both on this blog and around me personally have come from women, which on the surface you might not suspect from a show that in many ways lives out a male fantasy of sorts. Though as you said, I think it's the honesty in Hank that we're all drawn to more so than anything else. He says exactly what's on his mind, good or bad, and he does things we all wish we had the guts to do - smash our laptops when they aren't working; punch the cell-phone user in the movie theater when he answers his phone.

As for Kapinos, please stand by. I may have one final little surprise blog, a small Q&A with the writer behind it all. Although, technically - should I get it - I just ruined the surprise. Oh well.

Your reviews about Cali are amazing. Finally someone who actually thinks about what he`s writing, someone who understands and appreciates it.
And thank you so much for all the research bits you provided. Oh what a show.....

For reading recs: If you haven`t already, you might want to try some Kafka? If I remember correctly, Hank fell asleep with a Kafka book on his chest in one episode. ;)

Thank you for your replies too, Josh! I'm also very pleased to hear the news that Natascha -- who I've been a fan of since I first saw her, in The Truman Show -- is still working hard and taking on challenging roles. I've been amazed by her passion and strength, especially in the wake of her husband's tragic death. The things she's had to say, both about him and her current outlook on life, have been very inspiring.

I've also come to find that many of the Californication fans I run into (and have managed to hook based on my recommendations) are women. Granted, I do know several male fans as well, but I always find the percentage of female fans to be higher, which is why I always have to scoff when critics barely pay half-attention and label Hank (and, by association, the show) as misogynistic. Heck, Hank is quite the champion of women! And he often is a carrier of messages that ought to be inspiring for women at large (I especially love how adamant he is about women not messing with how they look and feel naturally).

Enough rambling from me for now. I definitely look forward to your upcoming surprise! ;) I'm personally dying to talk my way into some press credentials for the Golden Globes next year (I'm an amateur photographer working on cracking into the business), since it looks like several of the cast members would be there. I'd love to hear anything Kapinos might have to say about the show! :)


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