The Third Season
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All photos © Showtime
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
n the past, I’ve struggled with “Californication.” Not over its quality, as much as the fact that I didn’t find it particularly funny, even though it was clearly aiming for laughs. Nor did I find David Duchovny’s Hank Moody to be terribly engaging as a central character. So it was only out of a sense of duty, or maybe habit, that I agreed to review Season Three of this depraved ongoing tapestry. Imagine my surprise to discover that the season amused the hell out of me, and Duchovny came across as more charming than he had in the previous seasons. Is the show actually getting better, or has it worn me down to the point where I’m just going along with it? I don’t have the answer to that, but the fact that I sped through the entire season over two afternoons, and found myself looking forward to checking out the upcoming fourth season (which kicks off in January), must be worth something.
Season Three kicks off with Hank doing the single dad routine with his daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin), since Karen (Natascha McElhone) moved away to New York at the close of Season Two. His daughter is starting to spread her wings and get into trouble, thanks mostly to her intense adoration of a new best friend, Chelsea Koons (Ellen Woglom). Soon enough, Hank finds himself over at the Koons’ homestead for a dinner party. Mother Felicia (Embeth Davidtz) naturally warms to him; father Stacy (Peter Gallagher), not so much. Both parents work at the local university where Stacy is the Dean (yes, he is Dean Koons), and Felicia needs someone to teach a writing class, so of course Hank ends up in a classroom.
Soon enough Hank has to either fend off or submit to the sexual desires of his teaching assistant Jill (Diane Farr), a student named Jackie (Eva Amurri), who’s also a stripper when she isn’t engaged in higher learning, as well as Felicia herself. Jeezus, this guy barely has to get out of bed in the morning to get some pussy.
“Californication” wouldn’t be the same without the Runkles, Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcy (Pamela Adlon). Since their split last year, they’re finding that they must share their house, “War of the Roses”-style, while they’re in the midst of divorcing. In light of that plot development, it may or may not be an in-joke that Kathleen Turner is cast as Charlie’s new boss, Sue Collini. Under her watchful, horny eye, he finds the most unlikely of clients – none other than Rick Springfield playing a warped version of himself.
A huge amount of the humor in this season comes from both Turner and Springfield. Turner, who for several years now has been difficult to look at without remembering the beauty that once was, seemingly embraces a whole new screen persona as the perverted, sex-crazed Sue. Honestly, it hasn’t been this easy to laugh with Turner since “Serial Mom” back in ’94. She means to have Charlie and won’t take no for an answer. Likewise, Springfield hams it up as an obnoxious beaver-banging, coke-snorting has-been, desperate for a comeback at any cost. And then one night, Marcy meets him for the first time, and all those feelings from her teenage years cause something inside to stir.
Nearly all of these elements come crashing together in the eighth episode of the season, “The Apartment,” which sees Hank trying to get an unconscious stripper out of his place, while all the various guest stars come crashing in on him one by one. The episode is a scream, and every time you think it’s gone as far as it can, it manages to go just a little bit farther.
But there’s a twist waiting in the season finale, and just when Hank thinks his life is going in the right direction, three years worth of bad karma comes back at him at once, and the show ends in the darkest spot it’s probably ever been in. This season was filmed after Duchovny’s sex rehab stint, although you wouldn’t necessarily guess that based on the material he puts himself through here. It would probably be best at this point if we not try too hard to figure out where Hank Moody ends and David Duchovny begins. We’ll drive ourselves crazy if we do. But the final moments of the season sure do show a man who feels the need to pay the piper, and he is an Executive Producer on the show.
Special Features: Pretty slim pickings on this go-round. There’s a blooper reel and short featurette called “Marcie’s Pajama Party,” in which Pamela Adlon spends time with some L.A. divorcees, that’s pretty useless, no matter how much fun Adlon may be. There are also the first two episodes of the final season of “The Tudors,” which might be fun for some, but of course has nothing to do with the show at hand. Via “Ebridge Technology” you can also access interviews with the cast and crew on your computer, as well as the first two episodes of Season Two of “The United States of Tara.” It can never be said that Showtime doesn’t know how to cross-promote.