In the first season of Showtime’s Californication, we were introduced to David Duchovny’s character, bitter yet upbeat writer Hank Moody. Hank, after moving to Los Angeles on the heels of his first novel – a critical darling entitled “God Hates Us All” – has recently lost his long-time love and, by extension, his daughter, to a straight-arrow bore who makes his girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone) feel safe.
The first season told us the story of Hank’s attempts to win Karen back and his increasingly perilous relationship with a sixteen-year-old Lolita whose inclination for combining sex with a wicked right hook leads to one of television’s all-time great novel titles. Oh yeah, and it also featured lots and lots of raunchy sex between Hank and many gorgeous women. This was a major reason for the show’s notoriety, but what really makes the show work is Duchovny’s portrayal of Hank. He imbues him with a charming kind of good-natured nihilism and, even when he is being a grade-A jackass, we still like him.
The second season takes up the story right where it was left. Hank and Karen are back together, and everyone, including their daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Hank, despite his best efforts, has a history of blowing it, an expression that takes on a new and awkward meaning in episode one when Hank, attempting to pleasure Karen at a party, stumbles into the wrong room and, in the dark, begins to perform oral sex on the wrong woman. This is the first bump in the road for Hank and Karen, and that road stays bumpy for the rest of the season, not only for Hank, but also his agent Charlie (Evan Handler), whose marital and career problems lead him to some truly unusual places.
The most common criticisms of the second season were that the show had lost its edge and that it was trying too hard to be funny. Admittedly, a show like Californication is never going to be able to reproduce the pleasure of discovery one gets upon meeting and getting to know a cast of characters this quirky and entertaining. In season two, creator Tom Kapinos ups the ante by putting the characters into even more ludicrous situations. This may have been an attempt to offset the perceived (and literal) neutering of Hank’s character, and sometimes it is a bit too much, but the dialogue still crackles and Duchovny continues to imbue Hank with intelligence and sardonic wit.
There were also complaints about the way that Hank and Karen’s relationship plays out. And while the breakdown in their relationship does feel a bit forced, let’s face it, a happy ending would mean the end of the series.
However, while the plots are a bit sillier, and some of the plot developments seem a bit arbitrary, there is one big factor on the plus side of season two, and his name is Callum Keith Rennie. Rennie is one of the best actors working today, and from the moment he enters the frame in the first episode he elevates the show to a new level. His character, rock legend Lew Ashby, befriends Hank and, with his sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll lifestyle, brings a moral decadence to the proceedings that Hank no longer can in his attempts to clean up his life. He is an absolute joy to watch, and the way he and Duchovny play off each other – there is a brawl between the two late in the season that is priceless – gives the show an element that more than makes up for any other shortcomings.
Each episode is displayed in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The show has a varied color palette and both the bright, sunlit scenes and the scenes at night feature nice clarity. There is a gritty, realistic look to the show and, while black levels are just average, the picture is consistent, with few compression artifacts.
The set features 5.1 Surround for its audio and, while there’s nothing overwhelming to report, the dialogue is what counts, and in that regard the audio is just fine. Even when there’s all manner of business happening on screen, everyone’s lines are clear. The show also features some very good music, which is served well by its audio track.
There is a commentary on one episode. It features Pamela Adlon, who plays Marcy, and, while it is a bit rambling, she is funny, profane, and cute as a button.
Conversations with the Cast (19:12): This is a series of interviews with members of the cast, done as talking heads and mainly about the show’s second season. It features Duchovny, Madeline Zima (Mia), McElhone, Adlon, and Handler.
Marcy’s Waxing Salon (3:05): A short promotional feature that features Adlon leading us through a day in the life of a Hollywood waxing salon called ‘Pink Cheeks’. It’s fairly entertaining and Adlon is a charmer, but be warned: if you winced while watching Steve Carell getting waxed in The 40 Year Old Virgin, this feature may be traumatic.
Win a Trip! (1:02): A contest open to owners of the Season 2 set.
Biographies: Standard multi-page bios of several stars of the show.
Photo Galleries: A set of production stills.
The discs also contain some pc content and downloads for episodes from other Showtime series. There is also an online quiz available at http://www.areyouhellasexy.com/.
Californication is not a show for everyone. It features subject matter and language that many people find distasteful. However, if you like raunchy comedy that also manages to be intelligent, mature, and moving, you can’t go wrong with at least a rental (though I highly recommend watching season one first). If you’re already a fan, then purchasing the set is a no-brainer. And if you loved season one but haven’t seen the second season and aren’t sure whether it’s worth watching, the answer is yes, it definitely is.