Californication: The Fourth Season
Showtime // Unrated // $39.98 // November 1, 2011
Review by Rich Rosell | posted November 26, 2011
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Once upon a time the Showtime series Californication was a burst of dark, sexy, adult brilliance, exploring the disintegrating life of perpetually erect author Hank Moody (David Duchovny). The first couple of seasons tip-toed into uncomfortable marital discord and trampled on societal mores, as Hank boned his way through Los Angeles - sometimes legally, sometimes not - filling some bottomless emotional void, while his annoyingly forgiving wife Karen (Natascha McElhone) and moody post-post-post-post-punk daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) served as the other two-thirds of the cockeyed Moody household. Seasons one and two were the stuff of genuine cable greatness, augmented by Hank's agent/best friend Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler) and his spitfire wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon), she of the gloriously foul mouth. Season three, on the other hand, was a harbinger of the future and existed simply to give guest stars Kathleen Turner and Rick Springfield the opportunity to crank up the high comedy raunch to 11, lending the only semblance of watchability to that whole block of episodes.

With season four the dramatic wheels have completely tumbled off the storytelling bus when it really should be digging in for more substantive emotional darkness. But that's not what happen here, sadly. With a statutory rape conviction (bringing the events of season one full circle) threatening his very being, Hank SHOULD humbly repentant. Instead the character has become a swaggering one-dimensional a-hole to the nth degree, a largely unlikable sack who claims to love his wife while screwing anything that walks, which thankfully for those interested in such things that means ridiculously attractive women in various stages of undress. That's a plus from an eye candy standpoint, and at this juncture is almost the only reason to stick around. There's a crapload of skin in every season of Californication, and in season four we're introduced to sexy actress Sasha Bingham (Addison Timlin) AND sexy lawyer Abbey Rhodes (Carla Gugino), both who f**k with Hank's moral compass.

There was a moment somewhere during season two when the notion was introduced that Hank was actually living in his own personal hell, and I liked that, as it seemed to ground some of the bed-hopping gratuitousness with deeper meaning. But instead of exploring that, the series writers seem content with having season four Hank Moody degenerate into a piss-poor caricature of season one Hank Moody, and with that the show's loose tether to reality has completely separated. Thank goodness for Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon - who continue to scene steal like pros as Charlie and Marcy Runkle. In this arc the Runkles find their own marriage falling apart, and the comedy is well-played, filled with the kind of blunt, caustic dialogue that is basically the hallmark of Californication (aside from the abundant nudity and sexuality). Charlie and Marcy are much more than a horny Fred and Ethel Mertz, and they do all the heavy-lifting in season four; to be quite honest I would much rather have the show be solely about them at this point.

Trust me, I get it that bad boy Hank Moody's downward spiral is supposed to be the centerpiece of the series, and that we as viewers are supposed to be slackjawed at his relentless copulation while his life, wife and child slip through his fingers. That sounds much better on paper than it does over the course of these twelve episodes, as the character has become less believable and more of a cartoon. Yes, there's an endless parade of nekkid women - and I guess that's a big part of the implied appeal - but it's disappointing to see how far this show has fallen.

All episodes are presented in the original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, as seen on Showtime. These don't hold a candle to HD broadcast quality, and though black levels are a little weak the overall palette is fairly bold and vibrant. Fleshtones (hello, Addison Timlin) are warm, natural, and the only big stumbling blocks come during night scenes. Well-rendered colors, minimal ringing and edges that should be, could be much more defined.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and the track is a pretty solid endeavor, sporting clean dialogue, a wide soundstage and a nice showcase for the series' reliance on storyline-centric tunes. Not a demo presentation, but a strong effort for a cable series.

This two-disc set is packaged in a side-open slipcover housing a pair of thinpak cases. Showtime has really skimped on the supplemental material, and all that's provided are episodes one and two of both Gigolos and Episodes, as well as episodes one and two of The Borgias (available via e-bridge technology. Where's my interactive Addison Timlin photo gallery? Damn you, Showtime. Damn you.

Final Thoughts
This series really shows its predictable age here in S04 - despite the reliably prevalent nudity, the presence this season of the stunning Addison Timlin AND Carla Gugino, as well as the always comical Evan Handler and Pamela Adlon. There just isn't all that much to take comfort in.

A rental recommendation for completists only. To all others, just skip it.

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