tv review – Showtime’s Californication, season 7

Back in 2007, when Tom Kapinos’ Californication first aired, it struck gold: the show about the misadventures of David Duchovny’s fallible writer, sex addict and alcoholic Hank Moody got the balance between drama and dark comedy exactly right, and the show’s unique tone proved to be a hit with viewers. Back then Kapinos really had something to say about family, fame, sex, art, entertainment and modern love while the series overtly flirted with its literary heroes Charles Bukowski and, to a lesser extent, Bret Easton Ellis. It made a Californication a show that looked crude on the outside, but one that was surprisingly warm, honest and smart on the inside: despite the copious amounts of nudity, booze, narcotics and vomit it was the story of a man who tried to better himself in order to win back the love of his life and earn the respect of his daughter. Hank’s struggle was the series’ focus, while supporting characters like Hank’s agent Charlie Runkle offered both comic relief and a way for Kapinos to organically explore topics that didn’t directly relate to his main character’s journey. With the seasons the show became less realistic (Season 3 even dipped a toe in the sitcom genre) and more cartoonish, but up until Season 5 it had its priorities straight: to explore Hank’s character, his addictions and his inability to change. But after Season 4, a season that resolved many of the show’s plot strands, it lost its way: Californication resorted to fish-out-of-water stories with Hank Moody at their formulaic center. There was very little left of the series’ biting satire and dark humor, and of the poignant moments that were once a hallmark of the show. When it was announced that Season 7 would be Californication‘s last, many fans held out hope for a return to form. Well… that’s not what they got.

Season 7 finds Hank in an all too familiar place: he’s back in Los Angeles to win back Karen once again, but meanwhile he also tries to make something of his new job (a writer for a TV show this time around), while he has trouble resisting the temptations the city throws at him. From the word go it’s apparent that S7 lacks the intelligence, depth and emotion of the show’s glory days, but an early twist to the proceedings at least holds some promise for changes to the Californication formula: Hank finds out that he has son with a woman he knew before he hooked up with Karen, and, for a moment there, Kapinos almost makes you think that he wants to explore the ramifications of this revelation. But, as it turns out, he doesn’t: Hank is okay with it before you know it and so are his son and the women in his life. To make the inclusion of these new characters during the show’s final season even worse, they don’t affect the grand scheme of things at all: Levon is a cheap and mentally challenged Becca knock-off, while his mom Julia is just as much as a flippant woman cliché as Karen has become over the years. To put it bluntly: these characters add nothing to Hank’s story and are nothing more than an annoying distraction from what the series has always been about: Hank, Karen and Becca. Sure: it is a change to the show in the sense that the last season focuses more on a bunch of new characters, but the problem is that it tells the same story of Hank trying to be a good partner and father again, only with much inferior characters than those viewers have invested a lot of time in and bonded with. It’s a baffling creative choice, and one that doesn’t pay off in the slightest. The only new character that is somewhat interesting to watch is TV exec Rick Rath, but only because he’s played by the excellent Michael Imperioli who manages to add warmth and sincerity to the scenes he’s in; not because Rath adds anything to Hank’s character arc or Californication‘s end game. Add to that the excruciatingly dumb, shallow and crass subplots, the fact that Duchovny seems to be on auto-pilot and S7’s lazy and anticlimactic finale, and it’s abundantly clear that Californication has made its final season its worst.

Californication‘s seventh season is an embarrassment. It’s not funny, it’s not emotional, it’s not smart. It’s dumb and dull, an unworthy sendoff to a once great TV show. 2/10

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