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Back on form
on 7 April 2011
Californication follows the trials and tribulations of writer Hank Moody, played by David Duchovny. Hank drinks, does drugs, gets far more women than he should, alienates his friends, and somehow shambles on through life without managing to pick a direction. He should be a terrible character, but in fact he's a delight to watch, mostly because Duchovny produces a career-best performance.
This new season opens with Hank facing the consequences, good and bad, of his actions in the first season. He had a one-night stand with a young woman called Mia, who turned out to be the teenage daughter of his ex-girlfriend's fiancé. This inspired him to produce his first book in years based on the event, which Mia promptly stole and passed off as her own. Mia threatened Hank with the consequences of his technically-illegal night with her, and he had to watch as Mia was feted as a great new writer, including a big movie deal. Season three closed with all this coming to light, and this new season opens with the shock of Hank swiftly being arrested and charged with statutory rape. On the upside, the movie company now want Hank to write the script. On the downside, Hank's family are utterly hurt and betrayed by his actions. On the upside, the pretty young actress playing Mia in the movie wants to do some very personal "research" with Hank. And so on.
As usual, Hank's life is a total rollercoaster, and much of the season sees him trying to reconcile with his family, doing some serious soul-searching, in amongst the chaos and partying that he seems unable to avoid. This is a real improvement on season three, and shows a real attempt to recapture the genius of the first season. Part of this involves making this season very rude and crude, which can be unnecessary at times, but it provides the necessary background for Hank's development.
The supporting characters are well balanced this season, with screen time for on-off girlfriend Karen and daughter Becca, and well-balanced storylines for agent Charlie and his ex-wife Marcie. Becca is now too old for her "wise little girl" act, and has graduated to punkish mature teenager. The continuing saga of Charlie and Marcie is much better than in the last season, when it only really had one note as they snarled at each other. Other supporting characters include Hank's pretty lawyer Abby, actress Sasha who is playing Mia, film producer Stu, plus a standout performance from Rob Lowe as the actor who will be playing Hank, and insists on trying to get inside his head.
The main storyline is the impending trial of The People vs Hank Moody, and the spectre of Hank going to jail hangs over everything that occurs. One memorable early episode sees a wealthy film investor hosting a bizarre and ultimately tragic party for Hank, and another fun episode sees Hank's womanising get him in trouble with as many women at a time as possible. The later episodes of the trial are done well, and there are some interesting flashbacks.
Californication lives or dies on Duchovny's portrayal of Hank, and he is the real reason to watch this show. While a little patchy, overall this season is a delight, held together by the sheer charisma of the lead, and fed by imaginative plots that remain rooted in the characters.