As good a show about hedonism in balance with family values as I’ve seen, Showtime’s Californication is a smart and sometimes pretentious peek at what happens when a New York writer with a veritable fleet of addictions moves to California to raise his daughter and attempt a relationship with the “love of his life.”
David Duchovny stars as Hank Moody, author of God Hates Us All and possessor of absolutely no self-control. His daughter, Becca Moody (Madeleine Martin), is along for the ride watching all of her father’s ups and downs. Also in the mix is Becca’s mother and Hank’s long-term on-and-off-and-on-again girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone).
In the first season of Californication, audiences witnesses Hank attempting to deal with a major dose of self-loathing. In part due to the ridiculous film adaptation of his book and in part due to his numerous “issues,” our “hero” spent most of his time banging chicks and getting high or drunk. Hank also met and consequently banged Mia (Madeline Zima), a 16-year-old girl who winds up stealing his stories for her creative writing class.
The second season picks up where the first season left off, of course. Hank and Karen have reunited and Becca is pleased as punch with the possibility of her family getting together in some fashion. Through a series of wild events, Hank winds up meeting producer Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie) and is tapped to write his biography.
Hank moves in with Ashby and discovers that the producer’s lifestyle is even more self-gratifying than his own. This, along with a few complications involving a cast of strange but ultimately affable characters, is enough to cause Hank to question his choices and prioritize his family for a change.
That’s not to say that the second season offers us a Hank Moody on the path to redemption, however, but rather that Hank proves his “fidelity” yet again with innumerable women and vices. Constantly confronted with his past (and present) mistakes, he is forced to make a number of decisions about his future course.
Californication’s second season also provides an amusing subplot involving Charlie (Evan Handler), Hank’s agent, and his coke-addicted wife Marcy (Pamela Aldon). Things get complicated when Marcy gets back on the nose candy. Charlie, who loses his job c/o a whole lot of office self-love, decides to get into the porn industry and lands Daisy (Carla Gallo) as a client.
Addiction certainly has a strong hold on the characters in the second season, almost surpassing the first in terms of hedonism and bleakness. There is a thread of sadness throughout the 12 episodes, as we follow Ashby through a destructive lifestyle highlighted sharply by Rennie’s strong performance. Aldon’s struggle with cocaine is alarmingly fascinating, brought to life by the woman behind the voice of Bobby Hill from FOX's King of the Hill.
Season two gathers speed as things begin to roll downhill. The various stories crisscross, working somewhat uncomfortably through the first four episodes before coming slickly together for the last fraction. The writing isn’t quite as sharp as it was in the first season, but there are still plenty of sinister one-liners and shocking situations to laugh and cringe at.
Television shows work when they offer characters that we care about. Californication succeeds on that front, providing conceited but endearing people to follow to hell and back. The sophomore season unquestionably puts the characters through the ringer of past mistakes and present consequences, proving that there are still some things in life that can’t be drowned in a Hollywood swimming pool.
The DVD release of Californication’s second season includes cast interviews, an amusing featurettes involving a waxing salon and Pamela Aldon, and some PC content that includes two episodes of The United States of Tara and two third season episodes of The Tudors.