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'Californication': Hank, meet consequence

November 16, 2009 | 10:03 am
Californication_the_apartment The score card from Sunday night’s “Californication” will show that there were three naked ladies, a threesome involving Rick Springfield and a house fire that had to be extinguished by David Duchovny, who was wearing a kimono. But what made this the best episode of the season wasn’t so much what we saw but what we actually felt. Feeling, in fact, is what this show has sometimes lacked this season, the balance between flash and substance more often teetering to the former.

Here, though, the show reverted back to its best form, when it manages to trick us into really caring about the individuals on screen rather than just amusing us with their wild behavior. Here, behavior had consequence. Here, the hurt feelings of those who’ve crossed Hank Moody’s path continually swelled, carrying the story forward. Here, Hank Moody wasn’t let off the hook. Not once.

The episode was titled “The Apartment,” a nod to the 1960 Billy Wilder film of the same name, but it might as well have been titled “The Reminder,” for this was also a nod to just how good this show can be. See? You can have both: hilarity and emotion, the absurd and also the sweet.

And while the maestro in the middle, Duchovny, was at his usual brilliant best, the writing, too, was fantastic. When Becca Moody pressed her father to explain himself, she wouldn’t allow him to get away with his too-simple explanations of “I don’t know” and “I’m an idiot.” She pressed further this time. Finally, people were pressing him further.

“That’s not good enough,” Becca chided, and it should be mentioned that actress Madeleine Martin was great in this scene. “You’re not allowed to feel sorry for yourself right now. You need to talk to me. You need to tell me why you do the things you do when you know people can get seriously hurt, myself included. ... What do you want me to take away from this, from how you treat women?”

He finally tried to explain it as best he could, even if his best wasn’t going to be good enough. “There is no excuse for my behavior,” he said. “I guess I just wanted them all to see it, the thing that makes them special. I guess that’s all anybody wants -- to be seen, to be recognized. And then the lines get blurry. And the fact that your mom and I are in such a weird place ... hence, the big stinking mess. But I’m sorry if I let you down, sweetie, and I don’t know how much more I’m going to be able to say I’m sorry before it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

I don’t know either,” she said, “but I have this funny feeling we’re going to find out.”

The line about the I’m Sorrys piling up was a great one because it acknowledged what was becoming a concerning trend: crazy stuff happening, people getting hurt and then Hank saying he’s sorry in the closing minutes of the episode, letting his family (and we the audience) know that in the end, he really does mean well. But that only works so many times -- with the family, and with the audience -- before it starts to feel tired.

Meanwhile, the comedy that squeezed out of the juggling act -- Hank’s lovers and haters all showing up on his doorstep, and him doing his best to keep them from seeing each other -- played extremely well. And I couldn’t help but think about how amusing it must have been to be on set -- Duchovny spending the whole episode in that kimono, and one woman, actress Bridgetta Tomarchio, spending nearly the entire episode naked and passed out, being carried from one room to the next. Add a naked Rick Springfield to the mix and you’ve got a peculiar day at the office.

As for the comedy, Duchovny couldn’t have seemed more comfortable in the kimono, delivering laugh after laugh with his reactions to the insanity. Among my favorites: Jill shows up, having apparently not received the memo of their breakup (of sorts), and she says she’s in love with him. Hank’s reaction? A dry, confused “Sure you don’t want some coffee? Tea? Are you hungry?” Then Dean Koons suddenly appears. “Hello, Hank,” he says, to which Hank simply closes the top of his kimono. And finally, when Felicia professes her love for Hank in front of Koons, which prompts the very proper Dean to ask Hank if he too is in love with her, Hank’s response is perfect. He isn’t in love, of course, but if he says as much it will cheapen the whole thing even further and in a way make it even worse than it already is. And so with the husband and wife both looking on, waiting for his answer, Duchovny as Hank does only this: breathes. Audibly. Awkwardly. It was one of those painfully uncomfortable moments so often mastered by shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or the bygone “Extras,” and in this moment Duchovny proved just himself as capable as a Larry David or Ricky Gervais.

Fortunately for Hank, this is when Becca showed up. Unfortunately for Hank, this is also when Becca showed up. Soon, a season’s worth of story lines emerged from their separate bedrooms, coming together to form a very big mess. And then Hank Moody, suddenly, was the most naked person in the room.

-- Josh Gajewski

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Photo: Hank (David Duchovny) tries to explain himself to his daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin) on Sunday night's "Californication." Credit: Showtime

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