'Californication' Recap: Suicide Solution

Jan 17, 2011 | 11:32am EST

S4E2: To approach Californication as a "realistic" show is not the most fruitful way to watch because, really, this show is a farce. Hank Moody doesn't live realistically. He drives around in an old, beat-up Porsche, women fawn over him, and he somehow makes enough money every few years to do more than live quite successfully. The show, like movies and TV are supposed to, romanticizes things.

I write this because in order to enjoy this show, you can't get caught up on the details -- details like how Hank is paying the bills or why women find him so attractive. Frankly, you just gotta roll with it. The life he lives is ridiculous. The characters he interacts with are ridiculous. Everything is ridiculous. And when you let go of trying to make it realistic, it's quite enjoyable.

But sometimes, the show forgets that and tries to make itself into something believable. And frankly, when it does that, Californication turns into a cliche-filled mess. This week, despite giving us some pretty hilarious scenes, the show got a little lost in what its purpose is.

"No way, Charlie. You look like a baby. A big, sexy baby." -Hank

I've never been a huge fan of Charlie Runkle. Perhaps it's because he's a Hollywood agent and now, for the rest of our lives, every Hollywood agent played on television will have to live in the shadow of Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold from Entourage. But honestly, I've tried to separate the two. My beef with Charlie comes more his character just not really having any believable "life." Honestly, everything he says feels forced and unnatural. And I don't think it's a problem with the acting. I just don't think Charlie Runkle believes the things he says about himself and so, even though he goes through some pretty rough shit throughout the series, it's hard for me to want him to be successful because I don't believe his problems because he doesn't believe his problems. But so far this season, my opinion has changed slightly. There's something charming about him because he's lost everything in his life. And his only hope at a recovery is through Hank Moody. And with this all-or-nothing approach, Charlie's become a little more charming. And really, he knows that this is his final shot and if it doesn't work out, well, he's fucked.

"Hi. Hug?" -Hank

"Too soon." -Becca

One thing Hank Moody is good for is making light of a situation. He's a guy who could get woken up by his wife as he's lying in bed with strippers and cocaine remnants on his nose and, somehow, make it funny and not a big deal.

Following taking Becca to the store to get new guitar strings (which resulted in him trying to buy her a guitar, only to have his credit card declined) though, Hank is realizing that he really can't make light of this situation. The reality that he's charged with rape is lingering all over this episode. With every positive interaction he has, there's always a reference back to the rape. And that's a pretty heavy thing to have in the back of your mind, especially when you're supposed to be writing a screenplay based on the events. Right now (and I'm expecting most of the season to be like this), everything Hank Moody has ever done is catching up to him. And it appears, for the first time, this is one situation that Hank won't ever be able to talk his way out of.

But, come on. This is Californication. As I stated in the introduction, I watch this show because it's fun and absurd at times. When it tries too hard to be serious, it loses its charm. But the fact is that the writers have to deal with the situation they've presented us: Hank has been charged with statutory rape. That's a hard thing to deal with because, well, rape isn't a funny subject. So yes, Hank must deal with it. And I think they could have him deal with this successfully, but only if they let it be.

Let me clarify. We, as viewers, understand the gravity of what he's been charged with. We also understand that it would really piss off Karen and Becca. We understand all of this because that's what the show has revealed to us over its tenure. So why, oh why, must you make it more dramatic than it already is? For example, do we really need dumb, dramatic music playing underneath the scenes with Becca at the guitar shop? Do we really need for characters to say they're mad or upset? Why not just let them deal with it on screen? Don't put dramatic, over-the-top music behind it. Don't use trick photography to make us feel sorry for the characters on screen. Just let them act. Let them say the lines. And let them be upset. When shows rely on devices to make them more dramatic, it often backfires and instead, just turns into a cliche.

Like I said, the world of this show isn't realistic. But the writers should at least try and let the drama inside that world full of Porsches and boobs feel genuine. Right now, it's just cliche. And no one wants to watch cliches.

"You know what I like about you, Moody?" -Eddie

"What's that?" -Hank

"You're handsome." -Eddie

Rob Lowe FTW, and really, that's all I want to say about Eddie Niro. (Sweet Brad Pitt-goatee, by the way).

"It's getting dark. Too dark to see." -Hank's Letter to Becca

As I stated earlier (and what seems to be the only point I want to make in this recap), Californication is not realistic. But, it has created a world for us viewers to be part of and enjoy. And in this world -- even though Hank Moody might be able to stop at a stop sign, see a beautiful woman, and have her jump in the car to go sleep with him -- the emotions can be realistic. I realize that wanting things to be realistic inside non-realism is a weird idea, but it's what this show does best. It teeters that line of having fun with the characters and genuinely caring about them very well.

So at this moment, Hank took a bunch of pills and is writing a letter to Becca. For a famous novelist, this letter isn't anything tremendous. Quite honestly, I've always had an issue with Hank's writing. My issue is that it has always seemed to be in a different world than the life he was living. Whenever Hank sits down to write, we need to play music in the background and make the camera jittery because you need to understand how big of a deal this is. That bothers me. And what's even more frustrating is that because the show relies on these over-the-top cliches, it makes me not care/feel invested when Hank blacks out. Was he trying to commit suicide? Well, that's what the episode's title suggests. But I don't feel invested in him -- even after three full seasons -- doing so, mainly because rather than letting things happen on screen, the show seems to be jumping up and down, waving its hands, and pointing at this moment, saying "see, it's a big deal!"

I had a writing teacher once who told me to "stop trying to be a writer and just write." That's where I feel Californication is at right now. The writers need to trust themselves and know that they've created characters and a world in three seasons that we care for. Honestly, the drama will happen naturally when it needs to.

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