Californication [Season 3]

Season 1
Season 2

Granted, it’s been a while, but my residual impression is that in Season 1 we see Hank Moody obsessed with his ex-partner, addicted to alcohol and sex, bitter about his writer’s block and basically in bad shape. Over the course of the 13 episodes we see him struggle with his demons, eventually finding some kind of redemption in coming to terms with how he got into that situation and winning back the love of his life.

I thought at the time that while it had a distinctly comedic overtone, it also grappled with interesting issues of identity and relationships. Of course, it is primarily entertaining rather than probing, and so as a package it was very good. Which is a better review than I wrote at the time.

Season 2, which I couldn’t make up my mind about… sees Hank as a character in control of himself and to an extent, his destiny. The show centres around his relationship with Lou Ashby, who is a virtual mirror of Hank himself. My impression, again more than 18 months later, is that Hank became what you might call a human being over the course of the show, and while he made mistakes, I could sympathize with him.

Season 3 has presented me the same initial viewing dilemma as Season 2. I was not immediately impressed by it as being particularly profound; while it re-used a lot of the elements which “worked” in the previous two seasons, this time round they started to feel a bit tired, and the comedic beats were anything but subtle. More than anything, Season 3 felt like a formal exercise based on the ore ingredients established in the first few episodes of Season 1 – a heartless exercise of plugging addiction A into opportunity B – usually Hank’s dick into some pretty woman.

Whereas I felt at the end of Season 1 like Hank was at least partially redeemed, and at the end of Season 2 like Lou was at least partially redeemed… I felt no corresponding growth or enlightenment this season. The characters at the end were as they began; all their trials and tribulations were for nothing.

The sub-story of his agent, Runkle, was completely farcical and grated on me every time it surfaced. Just as with the “stoner humour” in Pineapple Express, there’s just too little of my experience and interest in that.

On balance, Hank’s main line story was tolerable, if contrived. The sub-story was irritating and contrived, and barely tolerable. And overall I suppose that it was driven by buzz-words of audience response (SEX! ALCOHOL! STAR-POWER!) and a commercial sensibility: nothing felt like a genuine artistic creation.

Probably the one redeeming feature of Season 3 was the genuinely cliff-hanger ending, which the creative minds from the first season could use as a real game-changer to bring back the live and vivacity, or it could be a plausibly used as a total reset button to put the show firmly back where it started.

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