Cynical novelist, questionable parent and master of addiction Hank Moody returns in Californication: The Third Season and continues to wreck his life splendidly on the way to rock bottom. While the Showtime series suffered from a weak sophomore season, it gets back on track in season three as Hank is finally faced with the consequences of his actions.
Hank (David Duchovny) has custody of daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) while her mother and Hank's longtime girlfriend Karen (Natascha McElhone) is in New York. On a break from writing, he takes a job as a college professor and quickly yields to temptation. Among Hank's conquests are his teacher's aide Jill (Diane Farr), student/stripper Jackie (Eva Amurri) and fellow teacher Felicia (Embeth Davidtz), who is also the wife of the dean and mother of Becca's best friend.
Returning characters include Hank's friend Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) and Runkle's soon-to-be-ex-wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon), who move back in with each other until they can sell their house. Runkle takes a job at a talent agency working for sexual predator Sue Collini (Kathleen Turner), but cannot handle Marcy's erratic approach to dating. Mia (Madeline Zima), the daughter of Karen's ex-fiancÚ that Hank slept with when she was only sixteen, also returns and threatens to publish a tell-all book that would expose Hank. Becca, now pushing boundaries as a teenager, finally wises up to her father and begins calling him on his behavior.
Fans of Californication need no explanation of the show's tone. The uninitiated should know that it frequently pushes the boundaries of good taste and features a cornucopia of sex, drugs and booze-fueled debauchery. The show's second season fell into the trap of offering little substance outside of the dirty comedic bits, but season three provides some pretty compelling drama. If Fox Mulder was the pinnacle of Duchovny's career, his work here is definitely a close second. The actor fully embodies Hank, which may have led to Duchovny fighting his own demons in rehab and in the press.
Californication has never been a plot-driven show, and it has been grouped with Entourage as a show that never really goes anywhere. I do not share that sentiment, but the characters certainly make the series. Season three's big theme is Hank's descent toward rock bottom, illustrated in his recurring dream of floating drunk in a pool while the people in his life pull at him from below. Boneheaded does not begin to describe Hank, but he is such a lovable schmuck that I always want things to work out for him. The family structure of Hank, Karen and Becca is unusual, and Becca smartly asks her mom whether she actually expected Hank to do a good job as a solo parent in her absence. Hank's past indiscretions made little more than ripples in his turbulent open relationship with Karen, but his season-three philandering finally reaches a level of unacceptable that even Becca cannot ignore.
Even in its weaker moments, Californication has always been hilarious, and season three is no exception, with each character in rare form. Runkle and Marcy are especially unhinged as they attempt to deal with a dissolving marriage, which is complicated when Runkle's first client, "Jessie's Girl" singer Rick Springfield, takes an interest in Marcy. Sue is ghastly in her obnoxious attempts to bed Runkle, but her persona as a former Hollywood sex kitten is a great send-up of actress Turner's own life. And Hank is as smartassy as ever, an attribute shared by his cynical daughter.
Californication: The Third Season makes an energetic run toward an impressive if somewhat overblown finale. Its characters are occasionally brash to the point of parody, and some notes, like Karen's reaction to certain revelations, strike a bit off-key. Even so, I welcome the next season of Californication. Hank has his work cut out for him.
1. Wish You Were Here - aired 9/27/09 - Hank starts his new job as a college professor and struggles to stay professional.
Californication: The Third Season includes twelve 30-minute episodes on two discs. The first eight episodes are on the first disc and the final four are on disc two. Each disc comes in its own slimline case with episode summaries on the inside. Both slimline cases fit inside a cardboard slipbox.
Showtime presents Californication on DVD in anamorphic widescreen. Video quality varies from episode to episode but never rivals Showtime's 1080i broadcast. Detail is acceptable but never great, and some scenes exhibit a good deal of compression noise, especially on the packed first disc. Colors are often bold and pleasing but occasionally bleed, and some of the later episodes look too hot, with skin tones bordering on red. Dark scenes also get a bit murky and rob the image of detail. None of these issues makes the show unwatchable, but the presentation rarely rises above average.
English 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo tracks are available, but there is not a dramatic difference between the two. The show is mainly front-loaded, with only music and a few effects benefiting from the surround boost. Dialogue is clear and well-balanced, and I noticed only a few scenes where audio quality dropped. A Spanish mono track and English subtitles also are available.
Showtime does not include much in the way of show-specific extras. A blooper reel (4:31) is the lone extra worth watching. Marcie's Pajama Party (3:06) is a short fluff piece with the character Marcy (note the correct spelling) and several women discussing dating and sex in their pajamas. Cast biographies and a photo gallery are also included. Of greater value are two episodes of The Tudors, which are included in their entirety. The packaging says cast interviews and several other Showtime episodes are available via "Ebridge Technology," but I found nothing referencing this on either disc.
Fans of Californication will find much to like in season three. The show is as irreverent as ever, and the writers managed to bring back some actual dramatic intrigue. Watching Hank is like watching a train wreck, and it remains to be seen how low he can go. Showtime's season three set does not excel in picture, sound or extras, but the show stands on its own. Highly Recommended.