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TV Review: Californication – “Exile on Main St.”

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Showtime’s Californication began its fourth season last night with “Exile on Main St.” Picking up three days after Hank (David Duchovny) was hauled away in handcuffs for assault in front of his family, it set the stage for brand new stories. Which is both good and bad. I mean, Hank’s three love interests from season three stuck around long after he tried to end it with them. Why are they suddenly gone as season four begins, only three days later? I also wonder about the time line, as each season seems to progress naturally right into the next, without huge delays, and yet the young characters age one year per season. The seasons certainly don’t feel like they cover an entire year.

All that aside, Californication is a great show. It’s hard to rate an episode as being particularly good or bad, as the series relies on long arcs to define itself. Rarely does one week deliver a self contained story. As such, I cannot say if the season premiere last night was particularly good or bad. What I can say is that it felt like a good, solid episode that fit beautifully into the established series.

The overall story of the show revolves around Hank trying to win back Karen (Natascha McElhone) and forget his inappropriate one night stand with Mia (Madeline Zima, who sadly did not return full-time this year, or at all last night). These two arcs have been kept separate for three years, but the decision was made for them to collide spectacularly at the end of last season. I certainly don’t blame the writers; it was time. What has resulted is Hank in the absolute worst place in his life yet. He faces legal consequences for sleeping with an underage girl, and Karen is more hurt than ever, wanting nothing to do with him. Which sends Hank back into another downward spiral, from which he never manages to crawl all the way back up from.

I like the new character of Abby (Carla Gugino, Entourage), Hank’s lawyer. From past experience, I’d say Hank will be sleeping with by next week, two weeks at the latest. Hank has already fallen into bed with the young starlet playing Mia in the movie version of his indiscretion, Sasha Bingham (Addison Timlin). Hank coaching Sasha in practicing the punch scene was one of the most moving moments of the series. Hank has never been a masochist, and it illustrated just how much pain he is in. It was a raw, moving scene, entirely satisfying. Paired with the dream sequences of his family, there was some powerful stuff.

What is so entirely frustrating about Californication is that Hank is a good guy. His problems with Karen seem to me to be as much her fault as his. He is truly caring and sweet, and loves Karen completely. Yet, he can’t bring himself to behave in a way that will win her back. If she’s not fully committed, he has to be having sex with someone, and that’s a problem. If he could just keep it in his pants, he’d be OK. Granted, the Mia situation was not his fault, and I feel terrible that Karen hates him so much for it. I understand her pain, but the anger she’s emoting is not warranted. However, it’s also easy to see why she wouldn’t know the detailed truth, and so absolve Hank. It’s the realism of their feelings and their chemistry that makes this show so great. And that fact that full understanding of Hank’s biggest mistake really places no blame on him solidifies his role as a likable main character.

Sadly, we saw very little of Becca’s (Madeleine Martin) reaction to the Mia revelation last night. Her limited role was necessary, because Hank is the main character, and he has some heavy stuff to go through. I do believe it is within Becca’s character to forgive him soon, but not immediately. Becca has always been understanding of her father, accepting him for who he is in a way that Karen probably never will, unfortunately. I am more curious about what Becca will say to Hank than what Karen will. Hank and Becca have the true father-daughter love, and the most lasting, stable connection of any two characters on the show.

Elsewhere, Charlie (Evan Handler) is on the verge of putting himself back to where he was professionally in season one. With the outing of Fucking and Punching as Hank’s, he has new success for his number one client. It looks like Charlie will be returning to his old agency, which may open up the return of old characters like Dani (Rachel Miner), who was last seen still working there. That’s fine with me, as long as Charlie and Dani don’t get involved again inappropriately, which I don’t see happening. I will be most joyful, though, if Sue (Kathleen Turner) somehow figures into this year’s arcs, as she was truly the most enjoyable addition in season three.

Charlie’s personal life isn’t so together, which is a shame. Marcy (Pamela Adlon) seemed so close to taking him back, but I guess she was just having nostalgic fun. The two are clearly meant to be together. They’ve had a rough few years, but I wish the writers would allow them to work it out. Sure, drama must be kept going until the end of the series, but at this point, Hank has enough domestic strife to carry that banner on his own. A happy Charlie and Marcy would lighten the tone a bit. Does anyone really want to see Charlie bang eighty-eight more girls? I certainly don’t.

Californication continues its most enjoyable slog, continuing plots as season four opens. Hank never begins a new story; rather his entire life is one big novel or memoir. I say novel because of the wonderfully trippy dream sequences, which were back in evidence last night. How many more years the show will go on, I do not know. My hope is that they are given a fitting conclusion. I think the series is probably closer to an end than a beginning, but no rush. In my opinion, five seasons may be the perfect numbers.

Check out Californication Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com