Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Californication Seduces Another Season With Showtime

David DuchovnyCalifornication fans have something to smile about. Showtime has already committed to a fifth season for the original dark comedy cable series that never concerns itself with what may or may not be appropriate for television. A sixth equally seems certain.

The early renewal and possibility of a sixth season is the first time the series seems open ended, with no one wondering if they are watching a final twelve-episode installment that casts David Duchovny as Hank Moody, a tragically comedic and self-destructive New York novelist trapped in Los Angeles.

Everything about this entertaining disaster works. The camaraderie with his longtime friend and agent. His merry-go-round relationship with his girlfriend. His dysfunctional 'almost' family, tied together only by a semi-Goth rocker daughter.

Californication is darkly funny, tastefully dirty, and naively shameless.

Perhaps it seems a little less so for anyone attempting to cut in on the first few episodes of season four as the show slowly works back toward its comedic balance. It's disproportionately darker in the opening episodes after ending season three on a particularly serious note.

As a result, the humorous moments are spaced apart much more sparingly. Even some of those may be lost without having any sense of the back story. It's understandable as the show comes to partial terms with its longest running story arch.

In the first season, Hank Moody and a young fan mutually seduce each other in a bookstore. But it is only after their odd one night stand that Hank finds out the fan, Mia Cross (Madeline Zima), is also the daughter of Bill Cross. Bill also happens to be the Los Angeles publisher that Hank's girlfriend, Karen, had an affair with and left him for. Mia happens to be 16 and Becca, Hank and Karen's daughter, is already starting to think of her as a stepsister.

Recognizing an affair with Karen's underage and soon-to-be stepdaughter would end all hope, the two agree to keep it a secret. However, keeping this secret comes with a heavy price as Mia extorts the first manuscript Hank writes since Hollywood turned his finest novel into a wildly successful but painfully shallow romantic comedy.

Since the beginning of the show, creator Tom Kapinos has always been careful to balance Hank's addiction to drink, drugs, and women with his high regard for chivalry and nobility. The extreme duality of Hank, as well as other characters, is part of the charm. When faced with a choice between two wrongs, Hank will always pick one as if no choice is never an option.

The appeal of the show is its honest candor and unapologetic dark humor.

Californication is not sitcom funny; it is dark humor funny. Credit for this belongs largely to creator and screenwriter Kapinos and team, who also deserve props for masterful economy of the script. Kapinos seems to be able to deliver one hour of storytelling in the tight confines of 30 minutes. And his 12-episode seasons have as much depth as any that run for 24.

The primary cast is perfect. In addition to Duchovny and Zima, it includes: Natascha McElhone (Karen, the frequently torn and unfair girlfriend); Madeleine Martin (Becca, the quietly withdrawn but equally wise daughter); Evan Handler (Charlie Runkle, the affable and fallible agent); and Pamela Adlon (Marcy Runkle, the brash but squeezable agent's soon-to-be ex-wife).

The show has also entertained some exceptional seasonal characters, notably Callum Keith Rennie (Lew Ashby, a legendary rock producer based on Rick Rubin), Kathleen Turner (Sue Collini, an agency owner and aging sexually liberated throwback), and Rick Springfield (as a depraved version of himself). This season has already introduced several newcomers, including Rob Lowe and Addison Timlin. You can find other early guests on IMDB.

Californication Earns 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The best way to watch the show is to start with Californication, Season 1 on iTunes. You can also find Californication - The First Season on DVD from Amazon.

However, most people will be able to follow along as the series regains its comedic pace or even watch Season 1 and Season 4 simultaneously. Given each season consists of 12 episodes, it would be easy enough to laugh your way through the backstory.
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