Californication: Why Next Season Should Be The Last
If you haven’t watched the series, this article will contain spoilers.
Showtime’s Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning Californication has been renewed for a tantalising seventh season, set to hit the screens on January 2014. Show creator Tom Kapinos’ protagonist Hank Moody (David Duchovny), will be enticing viewers to find out what is next for the nihilistic, self-loathing and tormented writer. For those of you who are writers, I strongly urge you to watch this show and soak up the sometimes satirical, yet extravagant and hilariously well-depicted story-telling of a man with the need to write. Like me, many fans will be tingling at the prospect of watching another season of master class plot, character and dialogue. But does anybody else have a nauseous feeling in their stomach? I should be more excited about the series I have watched four times over, but somehow I feel that this is the beginning of the end.
The Reset Button
”That’s right, I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it” – Hank
It has been claimed that every long running television series has what can be called a ”reset button”. This button is pushed at the end of every season and is the moment where the main protagonist(s) undergoes a transition; he or she will become self-aware for a period of time and will be able to perceive of their flaws, which have become apparent through their emotional journey. By fighting through the obstacles across the story arc, the protagonist will approach a climax whereby they are forced to take a leap of faith; however, there is one golden rule which the writer must understand before the button is pushed: after the character takes the aforementioned leap, they can never obtain what they want. If they do the series will come to an end.
Hank’s reset button has been pushed on several occasions, yet as per the requirements of all long-runners, what he briefly learns is quickly forgotten by the next season. A strong example of this is at the end of season four when Hank is forced to confront his darkest fear. He is faced with potentially losing his rebellious and quirky daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), as well as the love of his life Karen (Natascha McElhone). Hank is convicted of statutory rape; and the judge deems him ”a tragic disappointment”, adding that he lives ”in flagrant defiance of the rules of our society”. She further twists the knife by telling him that; ”your true crime is that you seem committed to squandering your gifts and wasting what appears to be a rewarding life”.
Despite a damning verdict on Hank’s inadequacies, the judge doesn’t sentence Hank to jail, throwing him a life line. Still, Hank does not learn his lesson. In series five Hank continues throwing straight whisky down his neck and embarking on drug-fuelled binges, topping it off by participating in sexual activities with several more young (but not too young this time), stylish and sexy women.
Externally, Hank never obtains what he wants (Becca and Karen), because if he did it would spell the end of Californication. Becca and Karen are the driving force behind Hank’s actions. Once they are obtained, they no longer drive him, his actions or the story. Hank’s writing is defined and inspired by his short-comings, general hatred of many things and intimately comical perceptions of the world. Due to the aforementioned statement, Hank finds himself in some desirable, yet mostly undesirable situations. These situations will not co-exist alongside a family life constructed of himself, Karen and Becca. This becomes a vicious cycle as Hank writes about the never-ending anxiety of living with these emotions.
”You’re tragically flawed, Dad” – Becca
Hank and the show are both tragically flawed; their fates are linked as one. As previously indicated, Hank’s internal wants and needs are to be a family with Becca and Karen. However, externally he wants to be a free-spirited, free-thinking, beat-like writer. His external ”wants” are driven by his fears and vulnerabilities. For example, a portion of his vulnerabilities have arguably been derived from his unfaithful, disloyal and emotionally detached father. This emotional conflict is one which will draw empathy from the audience and therefore magnify Hank’s internal struggle.
Hank’s internal and external conflicts lead him to several ”flight or fight” moments in his life (or reset moments if you will). Intriguingly, Karen makes this observation about Hank’s character within the series. These moments make the series more compelling; ironically, they are also the direct antagonist to why Californication cannot continue for much longer. It is as much about dignity as it is plausibility.
One of the main obstacles that both Hank and the show face for the coming season, and any subsequent seasons is that Hank’s reset button has been pressed as much as it can take. Emotionally, Hank is becoming exhausted, and as a result the plots are starting to be recycled. As a writer, you can do as much fucked up shit to your character as you want, safe in the knowledge that the reset button will save them. But when the plots begin to run thin, it’s time to get out. Some of you may be thinking that I don’t know what I’m going on about. Perhaps not…
But haven’t we already seen the ”rock star” story arc once before? Haven’t we previously observed Hank endeavour the ”rock star lifestyle” when we met ”The Great Lou Ashby” (Callum Keith Rennie) in series two? Yet, season six once again instills Hank into the world of Atticus Fetch (Tim Minchin), another ”off the rails” rock star manifestation. When I watched this season, despite becoming extremely bored of Minchin’s Fetch (this might be a personal gripe – it felt like I was watching a terribly depicted attempt at a Russell Brand figure), one thing really bothered me: I felt like I’d seen it before. How much difference can be found between series two and six? Granted, there were slight differences such as Fetch’s request for Hank to write a musical with him, whereas Ashby wanted Hank to write his biography, but ultimately, both characters offered the same external obstacles to Hank’s internal needs. In other words, Hank can’t have a rock star lifestyle as well as obtain Becca and Karen.
Similarly, when Hank’s father dies, his reaction is to embark on a drug and alcohol fuelled bender, snorting cocaine off the rear end of a lovable prostitute called Trixy (Judy Greer). Furthermore, this is also his reaction to the death of his sociopathic ex-girlfriend Carrie (Cathy Zea). How many times will this be used as a method to restore Hank’s mindset to its original state before it becomes overused and trite? We’ve seen these story arcs before, the plots are running thin, which is the reason the series is tragically flawed.
Why Charles Bukowski Matters
”So You Want To Be A Writer?” – Charles Bukowski
The second and arguably more predominant reason the series is tragically flawed, is because of the life of one Charles Bukowski.
Henry Charles Bukowski was a writer who was commonly known as the ”poet laureate of down and out LA”. Bukowski created a semi-autobiographical character called Henry Chinaski; commonly known as Hank – a pseudonym they both shared. I would argue with anybody, and I do not consider this a major secret, that the inspiration behind the creation of Californication’s Hank, and indeed the entire show, comes from the events in the life of this man.
The similarities in their characters are undeniably similar, not least the comparison and inspiration for ”Hank” Moody’s name. Both are writers; both are self-loathing, both are self -destructive, both smoke and drink whisky, both of them use an old school type-writer. I could go on…
There are also several indirect references to Bukowski throughout the series, some more subtle than others. For example Becca claims Hank is ”walking around acting like a poor man’s Bukowski”. Or you can see the image (right) of Karen reading one of Bukowski’s books. If you’re a fan of the series, I recommend you read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye and unearth the countless connections between Charles Bukowski and Hank Moody.
We learn about Bukowski’s life experiences through his works, which are inseparable from many of Hank’s experiences. For example, in season one of Californication, the ”objective A” story (or main plot) is Hank’s experience of and reaction, to having the novel which defined him (God Hates Us All) adapted into a screenplay (A Crazy Little Thing Called Love).
Hank was, to say the least displeased with the feature. He claimed the man responsible for the adaptation was the ”caramel-coated chrome dome doctor” who took his ”precious little novel, wiped his arse with it and transformed it into the crap-tastic crowd pleaser also known as A Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. This story is indistinguishable from Bukowski’s own experience, which is mirrored in his novel Hollywood. The semi-autobiographical novel reflects upon a time when his work(s) was transformed into the feature Barfly, and despite having young Mickey Rourke play Chinaski (Bukowski’s pseudonym), the film could not translate the inner qualities of Bukowski’s work(s) across onto the screen. This made Bukowski painfully bitter.
This is essential since Bukowski’s journey as a writer all but ended after this piece of work. Hank’s journey more or less started in this situation, meaning Kapinos has had to work backwards ever since, drawing inspiration from the events in Bukowski’s life in a different order. This has worked perfectly until now, but there is another problem: Hank’s occupation. As a writer, Hank has been on as much of a journey as is possible. He has suffered a terrible adaptation and been involved in Hollywood for numerous reasons. He’s written best-sellers; he’s written songs for rhythm and blues artists, he’s been a professor at university and he’s even been a victim of the social media age, where he was forced to blog for ”Hell-A Magazine”.
When one perceives the state of Hank’s emotional journey, couples it with the inspiration behind the creation of Hank, and then scrutinises the facts: one could feasibly argue the ink in the pen is starting to run out.
”What, I’m an asshole? Just because I say what’s on everybody’s mind?” – Hank
Despite my feelings that the show is coming to an end, if Showtime decided to commission a thousand more seasons of Californication, I’d still watch it. There are hundreds of reasons to continue watching the show, even if Hank’s emotional journey is almost spent. For those of you who watch the show, who doesn’t want an old-school Porsche 911 with an off-side light smashed?
There is also the darkly comical ”B story” arc, which follows Hank’s best friend and literary agent Charlie Runkle, (Evan Handler – see right) and his pursuit of ex-wife Marcy Runkle (Pamela Adlon). Throughout the series Charlie becomes inadvertently entangled in the world of porn, finding himself in pursuit of damaged and unobtainable women such as actress Daisy (Carla Gallow) and former assistant Dannie (Rachel Miner).
The main dynamic of Charlie’s character works flawlessly well as he completely juxtaposes Hank, both in his appearance and general characteristics. Furthermore Charlie could arguably be perceived as the manifestation of Hank’s id, (see Sigmund Freud) since he follows his desires mindlessly (see previous comments regarding the pursuit of women).
In addition to the fantastic ”B and C story” arcs, the dialogue truly is genius. Every episode contains memorable, witty, satirical and original dialogue, as well as many sub-textual allusions. There are lines of dialogue which could cut through the atmosphere like a Samurai sword, such as when Hank confesses his weakness for women; ”I find myself telling her how beautiful she is anyway. ’cause it’s true – all women are, in one way or another. You know, there’s always something about every damn one of you. There’s a smile, a curve, a secret. You ladies really are the most amazing creatures. My life’s work. But then there’s the morning after. The hangover, and the realization that I’m not quite as available as I thought I was the night before. And then she’s gone. And I’m haunted by yet another road not taken.”
Other reasons to watch the show include fantastic guests such as Rob Lowe (left – who plays an actor called Eddy Nero). We are also blessed with the likes of Marilyn Manson (as himself) and Maggie Grace (as Faith – Hank’s latest love interest). Some people might argue Minchin’s Fetch is another highlight to the series, but you know how I feel about that.
The interesting thing about how much more (if any) Californication we will see beyond series seven, is that it is dependent on what Kapinos will decide to do in the future. He created Hank in the image of Bukowski, and the constant theme surrounding the pretentiousness of the film and TV industry are explored throughout. In season one Hank talks about whoring himself out to Hollywood. I worry Hank will literally become a whore; the personification of the commercial Californication ship.
Californication could continue beyond season seven. But if it were to do so, it would progressively lose sight of the original values of the show, as well as what Kapinos had envisioned. Kapinos will be aware of this, but when money talks, sometimes sacrifices are made. Let us hope Hank and Bukowski aren’t two of them.
It is important that viewers understand what is at stake. If the show ends with season seven, Hank will leave a legacy. However if the series is strung out, it will become just another great show that went on too long. Hopefully, Kapinos will think back to the time he was writing for Dawson’s Creek, and remember all the things he hated about Hollywood and the TV industry.
I’ll leave you here with a taste of what’s to come in series seven.
What do you think? Leave a comment.