Showtime's "Californication" used to be a show I could stay up all night with. It was brash, crude, funny and occasionally poignant, and after each binge I felt like a part of the Hank Moody family. David Duchovny has been consistently good as sometimes writer and perpetual screw-up Hank, even staying in character outside the set by having his own struggle with sex addiction. The show dipped in quality around season four but regained some footing over the last two years. Season seven fails to provide an adequate farewell, and instead combines the worst parts of the show's past into a crass, unfocused wrap-up that provides superficial closure for series regulars without actually doing much of anything. Madeleine Martin, who plays Hank's daughter, Becca, had the good sense to sit the majority of this season out.
Even at its best, "Californication" was never a great show. It is somewhat surprising that it lasted a full seven seasons. Duchovny is definitely the reason, as he made even the worst episodes watchable. What drew me into the lives of Hank, longtime baby-mama Karen (Natascha McElhone), Becca, and friends Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy Runkle (Pamela Adlon) is the seemingly unscripted, intimately unhinged way these people relate to one another. At times, the show feels as sincere as the irredeemable L.A.-types that litter its streets. But sometimes, "Californication" threatens to become something more than itself. This drama usually involves Hank, Karen and Becca; the Moody family unit that is always a step out of Hank's grasp. The show's entire run is based on the assumption that Hank is a well-meaning scoundrel, but there came a point when I just wanted Hank to succeed.
Season seven is disappointing for a number of reasons: The first is that it chooses to wrap-up superficial, annoying storylines instead of big-picture drama. Charlie and Marcy spend the entire season talking about Charlie's impotence, and Marcy weighs an offer from ex-husband Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky) to sleep with him one more time in exchange for $1 million. The pair almost - almost - transcended their foul-mouthed courtship in season six, but this off-key swan song sends them right back into a spiral. Becca spends nearly the entire season on her "literary pilgrimage," and Hank and Karen's long-suffering relationship fails to evolve. Seven years in, there has to be a reason for the show to exist. If there is, I could not find it.
Disappointment number two is the introduction of Becca-substitute Levon (Oliver Cooper), a truly awful young man that shows up on Hank's doorstep claiming to be his son. Hank spends the season bonding with Levon and his mother, Hank's old flame Julia (Heather Graham). Levon is socially awkward, disgusting and grating throughout. I cannot believe producers thought this character, who routinely whips out his penis in public and gives people the "stink finger," was a good addition to the show. Even worse, Hank actually likes the kid. I kept waiting for the bottom to fall out or the paternity to be a sham. Nope, Levon is just Hank's new son. Hank and Becca share a roller-coaster past that actually lends some sincerity to the show. This character sets "Californication" back seven years.
Neither the drama nor the comedy are good, either, which is disappointment number three. Along with the awful Levon storyline, Hank joins a crappy cable cop show as a scriptwriter. Michael Imperioli plays Hank's boss, producer Rick Rath, and mostly rants and curses for laughs. There are a number of supporting writers on the show that fail to make an impression, along with a few female stars that proposition Hank to secure better parts. Hank is mostly over the meaningless hook-ups, and sticks to juggling Karen and Julia. The season lacks conflict and forward momentum. I wanted Hank to catch a break as much as the next person, but "Californication" ends up a bore, something it had until now avoided.
The show has always pushed the boundaries of good taste, making its home on Showtime count. Crude and "Californication" are intimately linked, but I had my fill of the show's incessantly juvenile humor by the final episode. Yes, "fornication" is written right there in the title, but all the sex banter used to be funny. Every other word out of Marcy's mouth is "fuck," "pussy" or "blowjob;" Stu's nonstop propositioning is neither funny nor endearing; and how many times can the show possibly call viewers' attention to Charlie's limp dick? I hate that the show ends like this. The final episode, with its Becca-centric comedown, is an utter failure. I had as much closure with season six as I did after these 12 pointless episodes. But Hank, man, he's still a cool guy.
These anamorphic widescreen transfers are not as good as Showtime's HD broadcast, but there is no Blu-ray option available. Detail and texture are reasonably satisfying, and the bright, neon colors of Hollywood are nicely saturated. Black levels are decent, with only minor crush. There are some compression artifacts, particularly on the packed first disc. I noticed no issues with edge enhancement.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes for each episode are quite good. The show is mostly profane dialogue, but there are a fair number of action effects and plenty of ambient street noise. The score and popular music selections are mixed nicely with the effects and dialogue, and both range and clarity are strong. English 2.0 stereo and Spanish 2.0 mono mixes are also available, as are English subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
All 12 final season episodes appear here. The first eight are found on disc one; the remaining four on disc two. A lightweight outer slipbox houses two clear slim cases, each containing a DVD. No series-related extras appear, but you do get bonus episodes of Showtime's "Penny Dreadful" on the disc, and the packaging promises episodes of "Ray Donovan" and "The Affair" via "eBridge Technology" later in September.
"Californication" is not a great show but it's one I enjoyed, at least until this final season. The show ends on a low note, and fans of David Duchovny's Hank Moody will be disappointed in the show's weak resolve and lackluster plotting in season seven. Juvenile sex and drug humor abound, Karen is placed on the back burner, and Becca is almost completely absent. Hank gets a new son and Heather Graham plays the kid's mother, which is about the only positive thing I can say about the season. Duchovny makes it out relatively unscathed, but this is a wasted opportunity to close down "Californication" with a bang. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.