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

October 18, 2009 | 10:31 pm
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.