Judge Gordon Sullivan once said "Hi" to a woman in Califormia. That's almost Californication, isn't it?
Our reviews of Californication: The First Season (published July 9th, 2008), Californication: The Fourth Season (published November 1st, 2011), Californication: The Second Season (published August 31st, 2009), and Californication: The Third Season (published November 15th, 2010) are also available.
Notorious H A N K: Hip-Hop's Most Wanted
Four seasons in, and Hank Moody was at the end of his rope. The finale ensured that pretty much every major storyline from the past few seasons had found a way to resolve itself. The show needed a change, since Hank couldn't go on as he had without exhausting both himself and the show's audience. In what reads on a the page as a desperate attempt to keep Moody relevant, Californication: The Fifth Season gives its main character a breather, with this season starting roughly three years after the last one ended. Charlie is now a father, Karen is remarried, and Becca is in college (with a college boyfriend to freak out her protective father). It would be a cheap gag, hitting "reset" on the Moody world, but Kapinos keeps it fresh by actually letting Hank grow as a character. It won't win any new fans, but this season of Californication gives admirers a reason to keep watching.
Facts of the Case
We start this season several years after the ending of the last one, and Hank Moody (David Duchovny, Evolution) is living back in New York City. He gets a call from his agent (Evan Handler, Ransom) about a big gig in L.A., so Hank hops the next red eye. The job is writing a screenplay for "raptor" (rapper-turned-actor) Samurai Apocalypse (RZA of the Wu-tang Clan). Circumstances strand Moody in L.A., and though he's reluctant to work on the project he can't turn it down. This also brings him back into the lives of Karen (Natahsa McElhone, Ronin) and Becca (Madeleine Martin, Legendary)—both of whom have new men in their lives. All twelve episodes are spread across two discs.
For the first time in the show's five-year run, show creator Tom Kapinos took the helm to write every one of the twelve episodes in the season. He made a marvelous decision from the start: flip the formula on Moody. For four seasons, the show has been essentially "Hank Moody behaving badly." That was fun, but after forty-eight episodes, it was starting to wear. Hank's behavior was getting more and more ridiculous, and the suffering of his friends and family members less and less believable.
For the fifth season, Kapinos turned the formula around; now it's "Hank Moody behaving somewhat nobly in the face of bad behavior." Of course, there's the requisite sex, drugs, and witty banter, but the Hank Moody of this season is a man more sinned against than sinning—even if he dallies with Samurai Apocalypse's on-again/off-again girlfriend, tries to woo Karen from her husband, and mucks about with Becca's new boyfriend.
In fact, it's Becca's new boyfriend who provides the impetus for Hank Moody's transformation from near-total ass to something like a decent human being. He's twenty-four (five years older than Becca) and a dead ringer for a young Hank Moody. He's got the drinking, the promiscuity, and even the writing talent down. At first, this makes Hank a bit jealous, especially as this boyfriend comes between he and Becca. What both Hank and the audience eventually discover is that there's more to Moody than his bad behavior. He's also charming as hell, and ultimately, what he does he does out of a love, no matter how twisted. Sure Hank sleeps around, but it's out of a genuine love of women, not a malicious desire for conquest. Moreover, Hank lives almost entirely in the moment; he almost can't be malicious because that requires thinking about the future and consequences. In contrast, Becca's boyfriend is always looking out for the next best thing, and that makes him infinitely slimier than Moody on his worst day.
There's a lot more going on in this season than the troubles of Hank Moody, and if anything the supporting cast takes on a larger role here than ever. Their stories—from Runkle's fatherhood to Karen's marriage to Bates—offer as much compelling material as Hank's journey. Combing Hank's newfound sense of self and the continued development of the supporting cast shows that Californication still has room to grow.
This DVD set slightly improves on the last one as well. Season Four felt a bit hampered by the fact that so many episodes were stuffed on to two discs. The same is true this time out, but the episodes seem better compressed. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers here feel bright and clean and demonstrate no significant problems due to compression. The show seems to be using even more of the 8mm-style footage as scene transitions, and even that oversaturated material looks good here. The 5.1 audio tracks continue to impress, with clear dialogue from the center and a good use of the rest of the soundfield for music and the occasional ambient effect.
Extras, sadly, are still limited to "bonus" episodes of a pair of Showtime's other shows, including House of Lies, Dexter, and The Borgias. The box claims to offer bonus materials via E-Bridge technology after using the DVD in a PC. However, I couldn't get it to work, and from what I saw, it's mostly offers related to seeing other Showtime shows, not getting any more info on Californication. This is especially a shame because this is the first season that creator Kapinos has written entirely himself, and it would be great to hear about the creative decision that went into the season.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Of course the show still features rampant nudity, lots of drinking, and adults behaving badly. Those not already persuaded by the show's charms will find little to appreciate about this season, even if Moody seems to have redeemed himself.
Californication continues to surprise in its fifth season. With something like a reboot, the show continues to offer a portrait of the artist as a drunken, romantic nymphomaniac, but the development of the supporting cast is what's really keeping the series afloat. With Hank Moody left in the lurch in the season's final moments, fans will be clamoring for the next season. In the meantime, these twelve episodes look and sound good, even if they deserve more bonus materials.
Hank Moody is still Hank Moody, but Californication is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Showtime Entertainment
• Bonus Episodes
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