Showtime Entertainment // 2009 // 336 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 31st, 2009
"There is no life without love. None worth having anyway." -- Hank Moody
I've been a David Duchovny fans since the X Files days, so Californication was on my radar. Somehow, though, I never saw it until this second season arrived at my doorstep, setting off a four-night binge that caught me up with all of the first two seasons. Watching both seasons together leads me to feel that the show is both very brilliant in many ways, and that the writers are really in sync because Californication: The Second Season improves on its excellent predecessor in pretty much every significant way.
The last time we saw Hank (David Duchovny, The X Files) and Karen (Natascha McElhone, The Truman Show), she was hopping into his car on her wedding day and the happy family unit was riding off into the proverbial sunset. Season Two starts several months later, and Hank has moved back in with Karen and Becca. He's reformed by giving up cigarettes, most of the booze, and his random sexual encounters. All, however, is not perfect and series of mishaps demonstrate the tension between Hank and Karen. Meanwhile, Hank has a contract with famous rock producer Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie, eXistenZ) and may be the father with Sonja (Paula Marshall, Nip/Tuck). Things are also not going so well for Hank's agent, Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler, Sex and the City. The "issues" with Dani have come to a head, and Runkle must seek employment elsewhere. This leads him to producing porn and dealing with Marcy (Pamela Adlon, King of the Hill) and her drug habit.
All twelve episodes of the second season are included on two discs:
* "Slip of the Tongue"
* "The Great Ashby"
* "No Way to Treat a Lady"
* "The Raw and the Cooked"
* "Coke Dick and the First Kick"
* "In a Lonely Place"
* "Going Down and Out in Beverly Hills"
* "La Ronde"
* "In Utero"
* "Blues from Laurel Canyon"
* "La Petit Mort"
I enjoyed the first season of Californication, but it was like a kid showing off a shiny new toy: all flash, no substance. David Duchovny (and the rest of the cast) gave a brilliant performance, and the writers seemed to revel in throwing every potty mouthed meme they could find into the script while simultaneously utilizing every excuse to plaster the screen with nude women (and the occasional defrocked Duchovny for the ladies). It was a bravura performance, but by the end of the season the writers had painted themselves into a corner: how to keep the tension between Karen and Hank without making her into a total, unsympathetic bitch or him into a boring, whipped little puppy.
Wonder of wonders, they succeeded. Not only that, but they succeeded using an old writer's trick: the dramatic foil. Pretty much everybody who watches Californication loves Hank Moody (notice I said loves, not likes). However, the first season did an excellent job exploring his angst, and the second needed to put that angst into new situations to help it grow and evolve. Enter Lew and Charlie (and to a lesser extent Angus Macfadyen's Julian). These guys spend much of the season throwing Hank's rather unique situation into stark relief, which helps us get to know Hank better and creates dramatic tension. So here's what they do:
* Lew. He's the rock god that the slightly-more-well-adjusted kids want to be like. No, he doesn't have the cachet of Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix, but he's orbited the rock world (with all its sex and drugs) for decades without flaming out. In many ways he's like Hank: middle-aged, obsessed with good music, good drugs, and good sex. Unlike Hank, he doesn't have a family, which leaves him free to do things that Hank can't or won't do. He can openly court Mia, who Hank has avoided since their lone tryst, and he can also court Karen, who Hank can't quite keep a hold of. The tradeoff is that he's always looking to the one that got away. He's Hank-without-Karen, and thus acts as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
* Charlie. Although not the most attractive or capable man in the world, Hank's bulldog of an agent has one thing that Hank's never had: a lengthy marriage to a woman who supports him despite his faults. That seems like a good thing, but this season spends quite a bit of time complicating the Runkle marriage with Charlie's newfound role in porn and Marcy's longtime addiction to cocaine. This season also continues the focus on the stagnation that can occur in a lengthy relationship. In the same way that Hank doesn't want to lose Karen the way that Lew lost his love, he also doesn't want to descend into happy mediocrity with Karen the way that Charlie feels he has with Marcy.
Both characters then show the possibilities that Hank, ever the Romantic, wants to avoid. By catching a glimpse into his possible futures, the emotional stakes are raised as he works harder and harder to win and keep Karen. Then, there's the third leg of the triangle, a comic (rather than dramatic) foil for Hank:
* Julian. Played to perfection by Angus Macfadyen, Julian is the hippy dippy "artist" who attempts to radiate love and support but is really a neurotic freak. If Hank believes powerfully in love, then Julian believes powerfully in loving everybody. Of course Hank is too cynical to think that can work, and through several hilarious scenes throughout the season we see that he's probably right.
Unsurprisingly the ladies play a big part in this season as well. Karen, Becca, Marcy, Mia, and Sonja all play important roles, and even Trixie gets to make a comeback. Their performances, like those of the male characters, are all very impressive and help to ground the world that Hank Moody lives in.
Although not the most extravagant presentation available on shiny disc, Californication: The Second Season looks pretty good on home video. The transfers are generally clean, although a little bit of grain and a lack of "pop" keep them from being top-tier. The audio isn't quite so good, as there are some serious dynamics issues going on in the show. I love the music featured on the soundtrack, but differences between the music and dialogue kept me reaching for the remote constantly.
Extras start with a pair of featurettes: one features Marcy waxing various porn stars and the other is a series of interviews with the cast. The first is funny but slight, while the second offers some fun commentary on the show. Pamela Adlon also returns for a commentary on "Coke Dick and the First Kick" to talk about the show's unique take on life in L.A.
Hank Moody is still the same foul-mouthed, self-obsessed, sex-crazed bastard he was in the first season. If the gratuitous vulgarity, nudity, and precarious emotionality isn't your thing, then the second season doesn't have anything to offer you.
I'm a sucker for the stories of mixed-up Romantics playing Quixote in the modern world, and Hank Moody certainly fits the bill. Californication builds on every major success of the first season and sets the bar very high going into the third. Although the DVD presentation isn't terribly star-studded, it gives fans a decent presentation and a few nice extras.
Somebody sent Hank Moody "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," and they got
him out of this. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 336 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site