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Californication: “The Unforgiven”

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For a show obsessed with heaven and hell, sin and redemption, it’s only fitting that Californication has lasted till Season 6, a number—when in triplicate—that immediately conjures devilish notions. As the series has progressed, novelist and wayward father/ex-husband Hank Moody has both created and incurred his share of spiritual havoc. From home-wrecking and cradle-thieving to losing good friends and nearly losing his life by cheating with others’ girlfriends (we’ll miss you, RZA), this is one anti-hero who’s pushed back every boundary reinforcing impulse control and common sense.

At the conclusion of Season 5, Hank’s waltzed into a particularly nasty shitstorm that’s once again foremost of his own design. A heartbroken, somewhat stalking Carrie (a briefly returning Natalie Zea) has drugged herself and Hank in an apparent murder-suicide attempt. “The Unforgiven” picks up during Hank’s anesthetized dream state. He and Karen are just young kids again, meeting at CBGB and later sharing a sunrise cup of coffee at a diner. But there’s the image of Carrie, luring him back to reality by pining for his love and last breaths, which startles him awake, where he’s in a hospital room with Karen by his bedside, full of questions.


Hank is fine, all things considered, but Carrie is on life support in a nearby room. In a slightly uncomfortable exchange, one of Carrie’s close friends (whose name Hank naturally flubs) berates him with theatrical melodrama for not letting her down easy. It’s a bit hysterical and unfair. After all—and as Charlie soon reminds him—she was something of a sociopath who burned down his New York apartment, followed him to California, trespassed in his home and attempted to murder him. But Hank was already overcome with grief, guilt and shame at the sight of Carrie hooked up to a breathing tube. He’d finally set in motion a course of events that ruined another person, and yet he gets to live. Which is why he opts for the slow death of alcohol and sets off on a month-long bender that ultimately requires intervention.

Of course, a Moody/Runkle intervention doesn’t exactly go as prescribed. In a scene that best encapsulated Californication’s charming dysfunction and adolescent filth—and began to dig the show out of its current melancholy—Karen, Charlie, Marcy (yay, Pamela Adlon!) and Becca confronted Hank on the couch about rehab. Except somehow, proceedings quickly devolved into more of a group therapy session, with Marcy still fuming over Stu’s (so long, Stephen Tobolowski) indiscretions and Charlie unloading about his continuing porn addiction. Eventually, Charlie persuaded his friend by brandishing a scar on his right forearm and playing the “I took a bullet for you” card. Karen hardly got a word in edgewise. As for Becca, she got the line of the night, surmising for her dear, genuinely helpless dad that, “These people are borderline retarded, but they love you.”

If they weren’t, then they’d have abandoned their troubled amigo years ago, which is why every episode needs sequences like Hank accidentally drunk-stumbling into Charlie’s neighbor’s house—and more specifically, their son’s bedroom—so Charlie can reassure Hank, “You’re lucky you didn’t try anything with that kid.” A bewildered Hank rightly answers, “Why the fuck would I do that?” to which Charlie responds that sometimes, “Holes is holes,” and suddenly, who’s the bigger Neanderthal is debatable: the alcoholic depressive or porn-addicted simpleton?

That “holes is holes” punchline was also overkill, as were a couple of Marcy’s patented profane rants. Ditto for scenes where Hank vomits on another man’s cocaine and drinks his own pee in lieu of booze. Restraint doesn’t just bedevil these characters, but occasionally creator/writer Tom Kapinos as well. At times, “The Unforgiven” feels desperate to reintroduce its cast by amplifying their cartoonish qualities, perhaps to offset Hank’s fairly one-dimensional malaise throughout. (Although there are a few snappier bits of dialogue less reliant on going blue, like Hank’s wholly accurate sigh of, “Worst intervention ever” and likening of his fellow native Long Islanders to primates.)


The less said thus far about Season 6’s core narrative—Hank’s collaboration with anachronistic rock-star caricature Atticus Fench (Tim Minchin doing his best Russell Brand as Aldous Snow)—the better, although that’s going to be the comic relief that segues out of all this doom and gloom. And only when the black cloud over Hank’s noggin makes room for a bit of creative inspiration will everyone’s personalities even out and put Californication back in its usual tonal groove. Hopefully, along the way, Mr. Moody will at last shape up and be the father Becca needs, because if she really quits school to drink, fuck and take notes (i.e. emulate her dad to better understand him), then God help us all indeed.

Stray observations:

  • They really might have to put a moratorium on Hank’s tired urban patois.
  • Nice twist in that bar-proposal scene. And perfect L.A.-hipster casting of the young couple.
  • Evan Handler’s looking svelte, eh? And who knew he had such a delightful alto?
  • 1989 called. It wants its corporate-subsidized, private jet-riding, cockney-inflected rock singer back.
  • Becca’s always the voice of reason, although not sure she and Tyler’s split compares to Carrie’s death.
  • Hey there, Maggie Wheeler!

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