There’s always been something Dr. Evil-meets-Encino Man about Hank Moody’s stabs at sounding hip to contemporary trends. It’s especially pronounced when he cribs inflections or slang from hip-hop culture. The only distinction being, Hanks is a world-class wiseass prick and know-it-all, not a cryogenic Neanderthal earnestly trying to assimilate. Which makes it pricelessly funny and vindicating when Samurai Apocalypse (an increasingly, vitally funny RZA) asks our protagonist in almost stately fashion, “What’s with the use of all this urban patois?” I half-expected Samurai to tap Hank on the shoulder and inquire if he had any Grey Poupon.
Sometimes, Hank just tries too hard. It’s a prevalent theme in “The Way of the Fist.” He appeals to Becca’s forgiveness with an iPad he grubbed off Charlie, goes above and beyond trying to alienate Samurai (there’s got to be a less ridiculous way to shorthand those references) and puts the full-courtship press on Kali (an increasingly, almost impossibly sexy Meagan Good) despite his better instincts. All of the above has lead to, or will lead to, bad things, ranging from his daughter’s bullshit-detector to an eventual Samurai ass-kicking.
The reason it’s possible to maintain compassion for Hank throughout “Fist,” notably at its conclusion, is that when he finally eases up, things only seem to get worse. First, he goes soft on Becca’s cheating creep of a boyfriend, Tyler (an unsettlingly convincing Scott Michael Foster… Cappie, we hardly knew ye), only to give Samurai the bright idea of beating Tyler senseless and holding it over Hank as an Santa Monica Cop (still funny) screenwriting IOU. But at Karen’s behest, he gives Becca space to keep swooning over the guy she thinks is his antithesis. The only tradeoff is he has to stand by indefinitely and observe bittersweetly when Tyler breaks her heart in ways he’d never dream.
That breakup became a little less eminent with Tyler in the hospital, and no doubt ensured Becca’s unwavering companionship for a while. Which is good, because we need to get a better sense of what drew these two unlikely opposites together, and whether Tyler will merely be this year’s cartoonish foil—a la season three’s Dean Koons (still funny, as is Peter Gallagher’s performance)—or evolve into someone more complicated like his counterpart Hank.
In general, the less broad these episodes get going forward, the better acquitted this season might be, and audiences will be more rewarded. The first two-thirds of “Fist” (that’s what she said?) deal with the process of being pursued for a movie, right down to Peter Berg’s token appearance as himself and the prospective director of Santa Monica Cop. It’s all a bit too Entourage-y, even if it’s implied that Hank is as much a tourist in this culture as we are. The scenes at Samurai’s mansion and over lunch with Berg still feel mostly glossy and light, no matter how funny it is to hear Samurai’s butler Alfred (still not his actual name, and still funny) parrot his “urban patois” on command and describe his balls as hanging “quite low.” As for the ridiculous sparring match between Berg and Hank outside the restaurant, it’s not a total wash. Before Hank gets his latest black eye, he jabs at Berg with this rhetorical question/back-handed compliment one-two punch: “Really, you made a movie about a battleship? Thanks for Aspen Extreme.”
There weren’t enough funny moments like that one, though, and it had a lot to do with Marcy and Stu being mostly absent, Charlie off doing naughty but fairly uninteresting business with a local soccer mom (Vanessa Angel, at her funniest since Kingpin) while stumbling across a hot new nanny, and all the aforementioned never once sharing screen time with Hank at once. That, as with most comedies built on the strength of their ensemble, is Californication’s super-secret strength. Stronger united, as they say.
But going back to that conclusion I’d mentioned some paragraphs back, it’s worth isolating. After Becca, Karen and Richard (eager for more of his participation, and hoping it coincides with Rob Lowe’s return) flee to see Tyler in the ER, Hank gets a text from Samurai all but implying that he owns his ass as recompense for a favor he never requested. It’s Scarface shit, just like Hank dreamed about in the episode’s opening. The season may not end with Samurai spraying him with bullets, but, as Hank might say, it’s about to get fo’-really real.
- Hank’s jolting around after his nightmare were a funny little bit of physical comedy from David Duchovny.
- Good to know Hank’s up on the Twitter-ese: “That’s sort of a trending topic right now.”
- I love that, despite all Hank’s coy patois, he turns his nose up at Tyler’s “man-pound.”
- Samurai is “just peacockin’.”
- Hank is such a mensch: “I feel like we’re about to roll into the Warsaw ghetto.”
- Who really ever says “the one”? I guess Peter Berg does.
- Vanessa Angel was genuinely very funny. And why did she pee on Stu during their affair? “I had to go. Seemed silly just to say no.”
- Charlie’s proper “up his ass” was his finest moment this week. Otherwise, he was a bit groan-y.
- “People love food.” “Yeah.”
- Richard only gets about three lines, and still unfurls a gem: “I got your back, rapist.”
- Anyone know who’s “Old Man” cover that was in the final scene? I’m thinking aloud about what other covers they’ve licensed besides that one and G.G. Allin’s “Carmelita”? (RIP Warren Zevon).
- So, you guys in or out for the rest of the season? And any newcomers now curious enough to go back and start from the beginning?