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Californication: The Second Season (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 8/25/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/25/2009

Despite having what I consider to be a respectable amount of knowledge about the entertainment industry, I still don't know a lot about how television shows are made. I know how they are made, in the sense that they are shot and televised, etc., but how does a season come together? Do the creators already know about how the show will get from Point A to Point B at the beginning of the season or do they make it up as they go along? And, if one person created and outlined the show, how do various writers fill in the blanks? There are certain shows where one gets the feeling that the first season was clearly mapped out and could exist all by itself. (Prison Break is a great example of this.) Thus, when Season 2 rolls around, the show seems a bit lost. This is the case with Californication.

(Editor's Note: It's impossible to discuss Season 2 of Californication without divulging plot points from Season 1. So, if you haven't seen Season 1, please read with caution.) Californication introduced us to Hank Moody (David Duchovny), a once great author whose works challenged the establishment. However, when this New Yorker moved to Los Angeles, he couldn't write anymore. Despite the fact that he's devoted to his on-again/off-again soulmate Karen (Natasha McElhone) and their daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), Hank is a scoundrel and beds many women. In Season 1, slept with a violent young woman named Mia (Madeline Zima) and later learned that she was underage. This experience renewed his creative energy and inspired Hank to write a novel, which thrilled Hank's manager/best friend Charlie (Evan Handler). However, Mia blackmailed Hank, stealing the novel and claimed that she was the author. Meanwhile, Mia was set to marry Mia's father, Bill (Damian Young). But, as Season 1 ended, Karen fled from her wedding, and she, Becca, and Hank rode off into the sunset.

As Season 2 opens, Hank and Karen are trying to make a go of it as a couple once again. Hank gets a vasectomy. While at a wild Hollywood party, Hank accidentally enters the wrong room and finds himself in bed with a stranger. This doesn't sit well with Karen, who then begins to distance herself from Hank. Hank later meets the man who had hosted the party, legendary record producer Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie). Ashby is familiar with Hank's work and commission's him to write his biography. Thus, Hank begins to spend more time in the land of debauchery which is rock and roll, and less time with Karen. Meanwhile, Charlie finds himself forced to make a career change, and through a series of events, begin to manage a porn actress. At this same time, the drug habit of March (Pamela Adlon), Charlie's wife, begins to escalate. Things really get interesting when Sonja (Paula Marshall) arrives, carrying what might be Hank's baby.

The first season of Californication was instantly riveting for two reasons. One, the show truly explored the boundaries, or lack thereof, of pay-cable TV by talking about and showing sexual activities which are typically considered taboo and of which, I can only assume, some viewers had never heard. The show didn't pull any punches in being completely frank and it showed that sex isn't always nice and pretty. Secondly, and along these same lines, the show portrayed adult relationships in a semi-realistic way. I say "semi" because the fact that Hank slept with a new woman each episode did wander into Dream On territory where the viewer asks, "Seriously, who has that much sex?!" Outside of that, the show did a fantastic job of honing in on the romance between Karen and Hank. We got the feeling that these two truly loved one another, but they were both also aware of how tumultuous and complicated their love lives could be. And the fact that Hank appeared to a be sex addict didn't help. (We want comment on the fact that Duchovny admitted to having a sex addiction in real life.) Despite this, we found ourselves cheering for these two crazy kids and when they got together in the season finale, it was a great moment.

Season 2 doesn't seem to know what to do next. We wanted Hank and Karen together and now they are. Now what? The answer to this, it seems, is for the show to go off in several different directions, one of which is for a rift to form between Hank and Karen, and suddenly we find ourselves wanted to see them get back together...again. That's not to say that Season 2 of Californication is a carbon copy of Season 1, but it does seem to come close at times. The one big change is that Hank's predilection for scoring with every woman in sight has slowed down this season. (Is there a not so subtle implication that this was caused by the vasectomy?) As in Season 1, Charlie does something stupid which causes he and Marcy to teeter on the brink of separation. The thing that's missing from Season 2 is a true antagonist for Hank (besides himself). In Season 1, Hank and Bill were always going at it, but the closest thing that we get here is Sonja's boyfriend, Julian (Angus Macfadyen). The Lew Ashby character is interesting, as he seems to be both Hank's friend and enemy at the same time, but his stereotypical "crazy, drug-addled musical genius" act gets old fast. (I know that it wouldn't make for good TV, but there are down-to-Earth record producers out there.)

So, what's the bottom line? Well, Season 2 of Californication is not as good as Season 1. Having said that, it's still better than many other shows out there. The program continues to be audacious and you'll find yourself covering your hand in shock at the some of the dialogue while laughing hysterically at the same time. Duchovny still seems to be transcending acting in this role, and we can't help but think that this is what he's like all the time. And, at its core, the show makes us care about the characters. This season was disappointing, but I'd rather be disappointed by Californication than bored by some network retread.

Californication: The Second Season rocks out on medium on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. This 2 disc set contains all 12 episodes from the show's second season. The shows are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no defects from the source material. The show is a tad dark at times, but this may simply be from stylistic choices. The colors look good and artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Allow me to sum it up this way: on the show, there is a knock at the door which comes from the right rear speaker. I say, "Good audio." My wife say, "That wasn't in our house?!" The surround sound is very good and shows nice speaker placement. The stereo effects are nicely done as well, and the in-show music produces good bass response.

The Californication: The Second Season DVD has a few extras. The only extra on Disc 1 is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Pam Adlon on "Coke Dick and the First Kick". Disc 2 is kicked off by "Conversations with the Cast" (19 minutes), where we hear from Duchovny, Madeline Zima, McElhone, Pamela Adlon, and Evan Handler. "Marcy's Waxing Salong" (3 minutes) has Adlon hosting a tour of a real waxing salon. There's a lot of blurring here. We get text BIOGRAPHIES for the five main cast members, as well as a PHOTO GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long