Judge Gordon Sullivan washed Californication down with a light beer.
Our reviews of Californication: The Fifth Season (published January 9th, 2013), Californication: The First Season (published July 9th, 2008), Californication: The Second Season (published August 31st, 2009), and Californication: The Third Season (published November 15th, 2010) are also available.
The People vs. Hank Moody
After four seasons, I've detected a bit of a pattern in Californication. The first season was pretty focused on happy-go-lucky Hank Moody. Sure there were some dark spots, but overall it was a joyous celebration of angst and alcohol. The second season took the show into much darker territory, amping up the black humor but also pushing serious drama to the fore, which culminated in a surprisingly affecting ending to the season for Hank. The third season mirrored the first by putting Hank in the college environment and playing up the farcical aspects of the revolving women in his life. With that season's final revelation we're set up for a darker fourth season and Californication: The Fourth Season delivers that darkness in spades. Although the DVD presentation isn't spectacular, fans will appreciate the access to the latest from Mr. Moody.
Facts of the Case
We last left Hank (David Duchovny, The X-Files) as he was being dragged into a police car. The crime he's charged with is statutory rape because of his dalliance with Eva (Madeline Zima, Heroes) in the first season. This season opens after Hank's long weekend in jail. The season-long arc follows his legal issues (culminating, naturally, in some intense courtroom scenes) and how they affect his relationships with everyone around him. Meanwhile, Becca (Madeleine Martin, Legendary) is doing her own growing up (including some time in a band) and Runkle (Evan Handler, Sex and the City) is dealing with his feelings for Marcy (Pamela Adlon, Say Anything). All twelve episodes of this season are presented on two discs:
Californication has never shied away from dark territory, and we all knew that Hank Moody's shenanigans would lead to legal hot water some day. Still, it was a brave move to at least try to hold Hank responsible for his devil-may-care attitude. On the one hand, Mia was clearly the instigator in her sex with Hank, but on the other she was underage and Hank didn't care enough to find out. To put an entire season into the middle of this ambiguity is a brave move, and one the season carries off with remarkable aplomb.
The danger is always that Hank will go so off the rails that no one will sympathize with him (or believe that he could avoid jail). On the other hand, though, part of the show's fun is watching Hank behave badly. If he's punished too harshly for his sins, then the audience won't get the vicarious thrill of watching him be bad. So, it's a fine point on which the show has to balance. To do that in this season we get Carla Gugino as Hank's lawyer, providing a bit of a Jiminy Cricket to Hank's Pinocchio.
The rest of Californication remains unchanged. The supporting cast are still excellent, the jokes are still pitch black (including a moment in the season where everyone is convinced that Hank tried to kill himself), and the show's use of music is still spot on. Although I didn't think the show could top Rick Springfield's appearance in the third season, Rob Lowe appears here as an actor modeled on Brad Pitt and the results are hilarious.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
We are at the point where Californication deserves better. With four seasons under its belt (and a fifth on the way as I type), it seems like cramming twelve episodes (eight of Californication, two of Gigolos, and two of Episodes) on a single disc with no substantive extras just shouldn't fly. Admittedly, the twelve episodes here don't look awful, but there's the lingering suspicion they could look much better. Colors look alright on these 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers, but detail isn't that impressive. Some of the finer textures look little better than streaming quality, and while there aren't many dark scenes to stress the black levels, they're not as detailed as I'd like. Luckily, there's less to complain about with the show's 5.1 surround track. Dialogue is clean and clear out of the center channel, while the excellent use of music gets some nice play across the soundscape.
There are no extras related to the show. We get the previously mentioned "bonus" episodes (plus another pair on the second disc, for The Borgias). The most charitable interpretation is that Showtime thinks that since you like Californication so much you'll be delighted to have a taste of their other shows. The less charitable interpretation is that they're using your purchase of Californication to get you hooked on their other shows. In either case, the problem isn't the bonus episodes themselves. No, the first problem is the lack of extras related to Californication, but that could be overlooked if not for the second problem: these extra episodes undoubtedly contribute to the less-than-perfect look of the Californication episodes. If the "bonus" episodes were on a separate disc, and the twelve episodes of Californication spread across two discs then the inclusion of the episodes would be forgivable. As it is, the combined problems of no Californication-specific extras and degraded image quality make this disc hard to recommend.
Hank Moody is still Hank Moody. He's often drunk, unrepentant, and crass. Those who have any lingering feelings or issues about statutory rape might be too sensitive to watch this season, which deals with the topic in typical Californication fashion, taking no prisoners.
Californication: The Fourth Season is a solid collection of episodes that provide a darkly humorous take on the consequences of Hank's carefree lifestyle. However, fans of the show won't be too impressed with the video quality of this set, and the lack of extras is a deal-breaker for recommending a purchase of this set.
Hank's not guilty, but this set is a disappointment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
• Bonus Episodes
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