Season one of Showtime’s “Californication” is one of the best single seasons of television in the 21st century. The show’s ribald, hypersexual wit continued the trend of denouncing the archaic tenets that guided tube content since the 1950s. Though protagonist Hank Moody’s (David Duchovny) many love affairs drew in hoards of viewers, the family dynamic between him, his baby mama Karen (Natascha McElhone) and daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) was the center of the show.
Seasons two through four followed in similar fashion, but season five’s scripting dropped off in quality. “Californication” became a facile farce based on hackneyed, clichéd preconceptions of Los Angeles, instead of probing the complex dynamics between Hank and Karen and Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy Runkle (Pamela Adlon) that glued the show together. Glitzy caricatures Samurai Apocalypse (RZA in season five) and Atticus Fetch (Tim Minchin in season 6) were poor foils and collaborators for Hank, and replaced the aforementioned dynamics as the focus of the plotline. It was a mess show writer Tom Kapinos seemingly couldn’t fix (after season four, he became the sole writer of the show).
“Levon,” season seven’s first episode, proved that Kapinos is indeed capable of turning around “Californication” and bringing the couples’ dynamics back into play. The opening scene begins with a remix of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door,” while Hank, who jumped ship from touring with Atticus to return to Karen, is eagerly knocking at her door. When he discovers Karen isn’t home, he strolls down to Abbot Kinney Boulevard (the main drag in Venice, Calif., where the show takes place) and spies her entering a coffee shop. He follows her in and declares his love for her and intent to make things right between them, only to be greeted by her new yoga crush, Chris (“General Hospital’s” Roger Howarth). Hank berates Chris and scares him away, chiding Karen afterward about her infatuation with him: “That’s the oldest schtick in the book, Karen. You’re not falling for that. His cum probably tastes like hummus … cummus” (Hank: 1. Chris: 0.).
Hank is staying at the Runkle’s Malibu beach house in the interim. Immediately, Charlie’s rest is interrupted by an uninvited party, a schlubby kid named Levon (Oliver Cooper) hell-bent on interviewing Hank for his college paper. The awkward bombardment is thankfully cut short, because Charlie scored a job interview for Hank for a TV writing gig.
At the interview, Hank meets producer Rick Rath (“The Sopranos’” Michael Imperioli), who is the best foil for Hank in three seasons. The hard-nosed Rath runs “Santa Monica Cop” (the failed movie that Samurai Apocalypse spearheaded in season five) and sees through Hank’s B.S. immediately, stating on the spot “I’m not going to hire you, Hank.” But Rath recognizes Hank’s not a hack or a wannabe unlike his current ensemble of incompetent wordsmiths. Eventually, Rath admits he’s a “sucker for a good redemption story,” and hires Hank after overhearing one of his writers mock him.
The one lull in the episode is a poorly scripted sex scene between Charlie and Marcy that further explores Charlie’s E.D.-induced distraught. While going down on Marcy — who reluctantly accepts Charlie’s desperate pleas to do so — she agitatedly and unrealistically scrolls through her iPad. The scene is boring and perverse, and is lackadaisically thrown in to further the plot.
The final scene finds Karen encountering Hank at the coffee shop where he ran into her before; Hank is there to finish the interview with Levon. Despite Karen’s befuddlement toward Hank’s return, their chemistry returned to levels unseen since season four. Karen refracted Hank’s diatribe to Chris in a coy, French accent, and the two have the heartfelt reunion Hank originally aimed for. All goes well until Levon arrives and treats Karen brusquely; one of the first questions he asks her about Hank is “Did he leave you?” When Karen leaves, Levon drops the bombshell that his mom is one of Hank’s past flings and Levon is Hank’s son.
Is “Levon” proof that “Californication” will return to its season one acclaim? No, but it’s reminiscent of the show in earlier seasons, where the casts’ crazy antics didn’t take center stage, the plot engaged and didn’t function as a spectacle, and the dialogue was witty without being outré. Hank’s epiphany that he has a son will allow the couple and family dynamics that once made the show great to come to the forefront again.