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'Californication': The good, the bad and the gross

Viewers, let’s talk.

A friend of mine who’s watched “Californication” from Day 1 just told me, after watching this latest episode, “It’s just not the same.” I asked him what he meant, and he said, “It’s just not as edgy anymore. I mean, the most edgy thing about this episode was the tampon in the toilet, and that’s just gross, just gratuitous, right?”

I generally agreed, but it got me thinking. Has “Californication” actually lost its way, or is this just a case of a show falling victim to its own past? “Californication” has always thrived on shock value, and some of the series’ funniest moments have been of the over-the-top, gross-but-I-can’t-possibly-look-away moments. Remember Hank and Sonja getting it on at Bill’s house, only to both get sick as they were walked in on? Or how about the threesome among Hank, Charlie and a very, very happy lady (there’s just no good way to describe what happens in that scene here, but if you saw it, you know what I’m talking about).

Other moments of hilarity: The Mia double punch, and Sonja’s water birth that resulted in Hank pumping his fist and screaming, “Booooooooyaaaah! The baby is black!”

The first two seasons were littered with such comedic gems. Our jaws would drop and the laughter would come, even if we were cringing simultaneously.

And so we come to Sunday night. Here, it was pretty much all cringe. Yes, there were some very funny moments, all of them Hank-related and once again to the credit of David Duchovny’s brilliant line readings; “Are you preggers?” may not look a hilarious line if you’re just reading it on this blog, but if you see the way Duchovny delivers it on screen (twice, to different women), it’s suddenly gold. As was the moment outside the strip club, when he said, “I just got my [butt] kicked by a J. Crew catalog, I’m not OK.”

But then came the gross and possibly unnecessary. When you reference certain bodily fluids throughout an episode, it grows tiresome, and that’s what happened here, beginning with the discussion at Sue Collini’s office that Hank should essentially just whore himself out to Hollywood -- literally. Then came Charlie’s “liquid compliment” at the strip club. And finally, Marcy’s lady business at home, culminating in prospective home buyers coming upon her unfortunately unflushed toilet. To boot, Charlie (Evan Handler) reached for the plunger and then later described the scene as looking like a slasher film. The whole bit was so gross that I couldn’t at all bring myself to get emotionally invested in the more tender scene that followed, when Charlie apologized to a crying Marcy (Pamela Adlon) for having made her so unhappy. My mind was still in the toilet.

Some “Californication” episodes leave me feeling as if I need a shower, and this was certainly one of them. It also left me wondering -- again -- if the show is getting a little too worried about outdoing itself and topping its last gag. This is the same question I wrestled with throughout the first part of last season, before the series managed to right itself and show the same kind of heart that was so prevalent throughout its brilliant first season. 

I can only hope for a similar ride, but at this point I wonder if it’s even possible. Especially in television, it seems, the further a story unfolds, the more difficult it is to remain fresh and interesting. Here, some old tricks don’t seem to be working as well, and I wonder if that’s because they’re just not as well executed, or if it’s because the element of surprise just isn’t there anymore.

What do you think? The floor is yours …

(… after these final notes:)

-- Am I the only one who was terribly excited when Hank, unable to sleep, got up and went to his computer? He’s going to write! He’s going to write! … Oh, no, wait, he’s just talking to Karen. Again. I still miss those snippets of seeing and hearing his work. But I guess the adage is true for Hank Moody this season: Those who can’t do, teach. At least we got the nod to the pilot at the very end, though, when in class and in front of his three (rather aggressive) admirers, he spun around and wrote the same (unprintable) word on the dry-erase board that he typed into his computer at the end of the series’ very first episode. Nice touch.

-- If Hank won’t write, then maybe Jackie will. The stripper-student, played by Eva Amurri, is becoming a more intriguing character with every episode, and perhaps we have another Diablo Cody on our hands. Hank is obviously interested in her story as well as her boobs. And by the way, if you Google “Californication” into the news category lately, just about all you see are stories about Susan Sarandon’s daughter (Amurri) bearing all on the show. As well as Rick Springfield showing his butt. Nudity will always be news.

-- As for the name game, Jackie’s stage name, Ashley Madison, is a reference to the dating service of the same name that caters to married people looking to step outside the nest. And the episode title, Zoso, refers to a symbol Jimmy Page used to represent himself on the cover of the album "Led Zeppelin IV." There are conflicting reports as to what the meaning of the symbol actually means, but someone went to these great lengths to understand.

-- Josh Gajewski

  • Photo: Felicia Koons (Embeth Davidtz) gets personal with Hank (David Duchovny) on "Californication." Credit: Showtime.
Comments () | Archives (10)

I didn't even have Showtime until I hear that Rick Springfield was going to be on Californication. When I found that out, I went back and watched season 1 and season 2, so I would be up on the show.

First, coming into the show I was not a big David Duchovny fan. It took me a while to get past him on the show, but I did, and now I really enjoy the character and his sense of humor. That took me most of season 1 to get past it. I did enjoy the show. It seemed to be well written, and the actors fit their parts really well.

Season 2 was not as good as season 1, but it turned out well. It seems the show really needs to have friction between Hank and Karen to get it to work. Once the friction was gone (Karen in NY), it seems the writers don't know what to do with Hank, or Becca.

This season, I have laughed really hard at Sue Collini. Actually, I don't know if it's the character, or the words that are coming from Kathleen Turns mouth. Last night I know I said "I wounder how she keeps a straight face while saying these lines." Then I laughed more.

For those who are not familiar with Rick Springfield's acting, I think you will be surprised. He does comedy very well. I did crack up at the butterscotch comment. I was wondering how uncomfortable he was delivering those lines.

I am hoping that this show rights itself. First thing, bring Karen back to LA.

Gross as it was, I can't think of another time I've seen menstrual blood on either TV or in a movie. They broke a taboo there, and it's welcome, far as I'm concerned. I can't think of too many ways to do it without it being even more shocking - at least they drew the line at showing the actual plunging.

The reaction of the house hunters represents society's sad response to this natural function, while Charlie's response was that of a loving husband, really. I thought that was quite nice.

DD remains the best reason to watch this show, though. The final bit was quite funny, biting the proverbial apple and expressing himself with the written word...

I've watched Californication since its inception and generally found it amusing. However, this season makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable watching it with the knowledge that Mr. Duchovney allegedly went into rehab for sex addiction. It strikes me as creepy and self-exploitative (if there is such a term). I mean if this so-called addiction has caused so much havoc in his life, why would he continue to make a show about a guy who is generally uncontrollable when it comes to sex. It strikes me as sort of self-cannibalization. Duchovney, who is a really witty guy on talk shows, and who has a hand in the writing might consider doing something else than mocking his own demons. Maybe he should try improv or even Shakespeare. He should put Hank Moody out to pasture with his Red Shoe Diary stuff and start all over again. But then, reinvention has never been what Duchovney is about. Strange, it all seems. "I want to belive" but am starting to find it all sort of absurd. But then again, isn't the show about the absurd way some of us live? Hmm.

I too have watched the show since inception and I thought that the cross marketing of Ashley Madison was rediculous. How much? How much did the website pay for the not so subtle mention of its site twice in the show. Californication can promote whatever web-sites/service they want but this time it was tacky. It had the words "sell-out" subtitled all over it.

Also, I have to agree with Frank - self-cannibalization seems to be a good way to describe Duchovney

I was really surprised to read this latest recap and analysis of Californication. I thought this latest episode was really good. So good that I watched it twice in a row. I thought it was the perfect balance of humor and slapstick and with a little drama thrown in for good measure.

The tampon scene and Charlie's stain was gross, but it was funny gross. To describe real grossness, choose any procedural cop show on tv today. You can see the examination of mutilated bodies and pictures of abused children and rape victims any day of the week. Now that is what I call gross.

Back to Californication though. I thought the episode last night was really light and breezy and flirty and pretty much fun all around. Even Marcie's tampon scene was funny because of the line that the realter said. "How could you? In today's market you should be ashamed of yourself." lol. Hank's scene at the end was perfect when all three women came to class one after one. So I guess I have to disagree all around with your assessment. I really enjoyed this episode.

"It's just not the same" - YES! My sentiments exactly. I thought we were back on track last week but this week felt...forced. This season has been so uneven, pretty unfunny and (I know, it's all absurd) beyond absurd. The first two eps were insufferable and I hope they fix what's wrong. Fast.

The problem is simple. This show began as a show about a guy on a mission to reclaim his love and repair his family, while also indulging in every pleasure that just happened to come his way. His earnestness and charm allowed viewers to excuse and enjoy his otherwise humorous and immature behavior. There's no point to Hank anymore. The writers barely even deign to involve Karen and Becca in the episodes any longer, except as almost-token figures in Hank's life.

I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I, too, decided on watching Californication mainly to catch my favorite celebrity, Rick Springfield. However, I'm finding I actual like the show for other actors as well. I'm loving the Sue Collini role played by Kathleen Turner, and I also like the Charlie Runkle role played by Evan Handler. One of the things I appreciate about Californication is that they are showcasing older actors like this, and giving them interesting and riveting roles. The show is for 'mature' audiences to be sure, and this "mature" audience member is glad for once to see a depiction of California life that isn't limited only to thin 22 year old nubiles.

Gross? Maybe... but the tampon scene has to be one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time, with the realtor's line being an all-time show favorite.

I find Californication generally gross. "Shock value" is how artsy people say "I wouldn't have the balls to say balls". Californication is not edgy or shock value art. Fetishes and tampons shouldn't shock functional, healthy people. Californication is all about indulging in self serving and self pitty, how to get away with it, and it romanticises what happens if you don't get away with it. It makes our increasingly self centered minds and lives feel better about ourselves and shows us it's okay to be an ass. Your kid will be smart and will still love you even if you manage to treat their mother as disposable. Your daughter will still be emotionally healthy if you keep taking back her drunken father. It will all be okay. It's edgy.


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