Viewers won’t soon erase the visual of a bare-assed Stephen Tobolowsky on all fours, carnivorously gnashing at Pamela Adlon’s vagina like it was Thanksgiving leftovers. The unsettling image is a necessary sacrifice, if only because it facilitates Hank (David Duchovny), a now-wedded Marcy and Stu, gleefully single Charlie (Evan Handler) and Charlie and Marcy’s church-mouse toddler orbiting the same chaos. Only in series creator Tom Kapinos’s L.A.—in which success is abundant but bittersweet and the city’s inhabitants ooze a decidedly unambiguous acceptance of its oily charms—could that scene be played for slapstick laughs and without shame or discomfort.
That’s the great pleasure of Californication. It’s never stayed grounded for very long, even within single exchanges or encounters, let alone entire episodes. Hank and the show’s heads are lost somewhere in clouds of smoke, digressing into adolescent fantasy with all the panache of B-porn flashbacks, only there’s no break in the timeline.
Still, it’s a good thing “JFK—>LAX” descended from literal skies quickly after a cringe-y early bit on an airplane that was mostly a chance for Hank to meet-cute Nubian hottie Kali (Meagan Good), who’d factor more substantially later on. Some unfortunate double entendres about wet puddles and Kali’s puzzling, immediate abandonment of her boundaries were rescued by a hilarious turn from their crotchety neighboring passenger. (After finding Hank and Kali smooching in the bathroom, she scolds, “For the love of Christ, save it for the honeymoon suite. I got serious work I gotta do in here.”)
This being a season premiere, there’s plenty of “What I Did Last Summer” rounding up of the past two years. The most surprising news is that Karen (Natasha McElhone) has upped and married Hank’s one-time nemesis—and her former professor—Richard Bates (although, damn it’s good to have Jason Beghe return) and jettisoned herself to the ‘burbs. It’s there that Richard and Karen have gotten familiar with Becca’s (the bizarrely ageless Madeleine Martin) 24-year-old boyfriend, Cappie… er… Tyler (aka Scott Michael Foster from Greek!). Richard loathes his slithering arrogance, and after a disastrous introductory lunch, Hank is inclined to agree. Their mutual protectiveness toward Becca has salved their own history of grudges for now, and it’s almost sweet, and should provide a lot of the season’s best and funniest moments.
Tyler’s presence will also serve to drive a wedge between Hank and Becca, but it’s safe to assume that when things go south, she’ll gravitate back toward dad. Even if the couple doesn’t last precisely because Tyler is entirely too similar to Hank. Family is full of those little ironies, and when you mix in all of Californication’s toxic egos and self-destructive eccentrics, it makes for a comedy about nurturing, relationships and growing up a lot more appealing than, say, Parenthood.
RZA is also in the mix as rapper/producer/business mogul Samurai Apocalypse, an exaggerated, West Coast funhouse version of himself, right down to the perfectly ridiculous moniker. In a very funny back-and-forth, Samurai invites Hank to his mansion and offers him a gig writing his new film project, Santa Monica Cop (Hank: “So it’s like Beverly Hills Cop.” Samurai, deadpan: “No nigga, it’s like Santa Monica.”). We also learn that Kali is, of course, Sam’s number-one lover and protégé. A bit convenient. Not to mention, we all know how that’s going to end (badly), and sometimes it’s difficult not to resent Kapinos for dangling Hank’s unavoidable bungling over our heads for an entire season. It’s not a matter of if Hank will fuck Kali and destroy his partnership with Samurai, but when and how spectacularly.
Unfortunately, this little subplot all but guarantees more of Hank and Charlie swapping sloppy hip-hop slang, which has always been among their characters’ more grating tendencies. And that’s without generally having been in business with an actual rapper. Meagan Good is absolutely smoking and irresistible, but lacks any real charisma in the premiere, something that should come together once, well, she and Hank come together.
Kapinos and Co. have really stretched the limits of where it felt like Californication was headed, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this were its final bow. Once Becca’s in her 20s and on her own, there won’t be much material left to mine out her and Hank’s transformation together. And it feels as if Marcy, Charlie and the remaining ensemble cast are settling into their new, only slightly less twisted lives. Not to mention, unlike Entourage’s Ari Gold, we certainly don’t need any scenes in five years of Runkle juggling work with persnickety private school deans.
Californication has attracted such wide audiences because it allows us to indulge our Red Shoe Diaries (which also, incidentally, starred Duchovny) perversions and unapologetically giggle at some seriously blue humor, all while attaching ourselves to people who are real and relatable, but not too real and relatable. So cheers to what will likely be an erratic but raucous season five.
- Natalie Zea, who some might know as Winona from Justified or remember as Will Ferrell’s loony ex in The Other Guys pops up as Hank’s loony arsonist ex here, and at least gets this zinger: “Do ya think I would have let you sodomize me if I didn’t think there was a future here?”
- Do you think naming Zea’s New York glamazon character Carrie was a little wink to Sex and the City?
- I did like that it took Hank a second to realize Kali had invited him into the airplane bathroom, and that ultimately his fantasy was thwarted.
- “Can we do this a little later when you lose your wood, wash your face?”
- Marcy walking out of the bathroom while washing her vagina with a hand towel will also remain singed in my brain.
- Hank, Charlie and Marcy are basically the collective (even more) perverted doppleganager of Larry, Jeff and Susie on Curb.
- “Truth be told, I get more satisfaction out of a solid BM.”
- I love that Samurai has "an Alfred."
- Apocalypse Wow. Lol.
- Best one-two punchline of the episode: Richard: “You know it wouldn’t be the first time a man has tongued my asshole in gratitude.” Hank, to Karen: “He’s kidding, right?”
- Congratulations to Charlie on the big 100.
- We dropped in on the show twice last season, and covered a lot of the, “Is this show wish fulfillment for Neanderthals?” debate in the comments, so if you wanna check it out or chime in, here tis. My hope with the weekly reviews is to be honest when it simply isn’t funny or makes me wince, but basically proceed under the premise that it’s fun appointment television. Hope you guys will be as into poring over the season as I am.