Channel Guide: Old Dog, No New Tricks — A Look at Californication’s Fifth Season Premiere

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When we first see our frowzy anti-hero, he’s alone, smoking, pacing back and forth in the men’s room of an upscale New York restaurant, rehearsing…something.  “You’re amazing, a goddess, a gift from on high.” Is it a poem? A marriage proposal? Has he finally found a love so powerful and true that it’s remedied his hitherto cankered existence? No, of course not. Later, face-to-face with the delusional woman who somehow didn’t see this coming, he finishes the thought. “You deserve the white dress and the happy ending. I’m just not the guy to give it to you.”  Hank Moody is the same man he’s been since day one—insincere, kind of a jerk, closetful of black clothes.

Season five of Californication picks up two years after the events of season four (hey, I guess the world doesn’t end in 2012). Karen (Natasha McElhone) is now married and apparently happy about it; Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy (Pamela Aldon) still aren’t together but have a two-year-old son (the kid hasn’t started talking yet which may or may not have something to do with the fact that both of his parents are apt to have sex in places where it’s quite easy to stumble upon them); Becca (Madeleine Martin) is in college, dating an arrogantly suave, younger version of her dad (who didn’t see that coming?); and Hank still hasn’t shaved.

After breaking up with his New York girlfriend, Hank gets news of a business opportunity back in California and decides to lay low for a while and return to L.A.—the ex-girlfriend has a key to his apartment and hell hath no fury like a 110 lb. woman scorned. But before he hops on the plane, he snaps a picture of himself in front of a bookstore display of his novel. Both Hank and this bookstore that somehow still exists are anachronisms—defiantly unaffected by the changing world.

David Duchovny in Californication

For the past four seasons Hank’s stasis, his inability to grow or simply have some kind of significant realization that might even just slightly alter the way he saw the world, seemed more like a plot device than a character trait—if Hank is always this radical, chain smoking, commitment-phobe then this series about a radical, chain-smoking, commitment-phobe is able to continue. (Could we call the show “Californication” if Hank and Karen married and moved back to New York for good? Where’s the Cali? Where’s the fornication?) But this season, everyone else is moving forward without Hank and that contrast—inert Hank vs. the transforming collective—is actually kind of tragic and interesting.

Unfortunately, series creator Tom Kapinos has taken Hank’s “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mantra to heart and seems to be using the adage to justify writing that isn’t as imaginative as it should be. When Hank arrives in L.A., he meets up with a rap mogul, Samurai Apocalypse (RZA). The rapper wants to act and asks Hank to write a screenplay for him. In a twist that surely surprised no one, Samurai Apocalypse’s girlfriend Kali (get it? ‘Cause this show takes place in California?), played by Meagan Good, just happens to be the same woman Hank was smooching on the plane ride back to L.A. Doesn’t this feel a lot like season one where Hank sleeps with Mia and later finds out that she just happens to be the 16-year-old daughter of Karen’s fiancé?

David Duchovny is Californication’s saving grace. Even when you can spot a plot twist a mile a way (though it made absolutely no sense, didn’t you just know that Hank’s ex was going to burn down his apartment?), Duchovny—the man, the myth, the monotone—is at least fun to watch. Hank Moody wrote a book called God Hates Us All, he says things like “thanks, homes, much appreesh,” his last name is Moody. Duchovny’s perfect, acerbic delivery makes all of this seem ironic and therefore bearable.

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