Californication mid-season update

by Grant Tillery

Showtime knows how to run excellent TV shows into the ground and turn them into mockeries of their former selves.  They did it with “Weeds” and, arguably, “Dexter.”  Season seven of “Californication” follows this unfortunate trend; it’s the worst season of the show yet.

After viewing the season’s first episode, “Levon,” the show briefly hit its stride for the first time since season four.  Hank and Karen were primed to reunite and rendezvous, and the show focused on their dynamic and the misadventures of the Runkles for a New York minute.  Had Tom Kapinos developed these storylines, season seven would have stood up to seasons three and four.  But ever since Kapinos did away with his writer’s room after season five, the show lacks plot development and complexity.  The introduction of Hank’s long lost son, Levon, and his mother, Julia, threw a wrench in Hank and Karen’s relationship, and Karen has made only sporadic appearances since the second episode of the season.  The way these events have finagled their way into the plot are unrewarding and create unnecessary chaos instead of linking to a grander, overarching theme.  Becca’s absence (as of now) is another blow to the plot, since she’s an integral link between Hank and Karen.

What bothers me most is that Hank’s mission to romance Karen was abruptly aborted since her brief, off-air encounter with Julia.  Instead of standing for something, Hank merely lives his life and engages in shenanigans that the Hank of seasons two, four and even six would shake his head in dismay at (i.e. wooing Julia while Karen is at his beck and call, hiring socially awkward Levon a hooker to help him lose his virginity).  Hank no longer comes across as a brooding, intelligent romantic, rather a failed novelist who spews poop jokes to pepper up his life’s monotony and misfortune.

At this point, it’s unlikely that Hank and Karen’s happy ending will occur, and if it were to, would Hank shed his ambivalence to take a final chance with the former love of his life.  This will disappoint both hopeless romantics and diehard “Californication” junkies. David Duchovny (Hank) revealed in an interview with GQ that he was only moderately satisfied with “Californication’s” conclusion, stating that he wanted Hank to either die or end up with Karen.  His vague spoiler insinuates that the star-crossed lovers are not fated for eternal bliss.

Season seven, at best, could have explored similar themes to season two, where Hank and Karen spent the first four episodes of the season working their problems out before splitting up, resuming their relationship ambiguously at season’s end and into season three.  This worked phenomenally because Kapinos and his writers flushed out compelling plots and subplots based on realistic conflicts and writer’s struggles instead of projecting unfulfilled fantasies of how a writer should live onto Hank.  At the show’s genesis and heyday, Hank was a flawed but deep portmanteau of literature’s most notorious hedonists; now he’s reduced to a D-list TV writer without purpose or intention.  Hank’s current persona is flat and one-dimensional, and does not captivate viewers like he used to.

Though episodes two-six of season seven are the five worst of the series, the verdict is out for the rest of the season.  The best-case scenario is that season seven resembles season six in quality — starting strong, quickly nose-diving, but ending with three-to-four solid, if not stellar, episodes.  But the synopses and photos detailing upcoming episodes aren’t enthralling, foretelling the series’ conclusion as less satisfying than Kapinos promised.