MovieChopShop is, not surprisingly, a movie blog. So whenever a TV show has caught my attention in the past, I’ve fought the urge to use the site as a sounding board for my opinion. It’s important to me to keep the site pure, you see.
But the past few months have seen such an egregious and frustrating movement in the world of television that it’s time I break my long-held moral ground in order to let you know about the most important event that’s happened on TV this year.
Californication has jumped the shark.
And not just in some small way. It’s leapt to its doom and been devoured by great whites of Jaws-like proportions. Then the beast pooped it out and ate it again.
Normally this wouldn’t really affect me. Many of the greatest TV shows of all time had that one moment that changed them forever. They ran out of steam or lost sight of what made them great. What makes Californication so noteworthy, though, is how it has gone off the rocker. Whereas most TV shows break down because they stray away from their core concept, this one has died a miserable death by embracing its darkest depths…to the point of offensive insanity.
It hits me on a personal level because I used to be a Californication defender. The same concerns and frustrations that I’m about to raise regarding the series have been being raised since literally day one. I showed a couple of female friends the pilot episode, and they were immediately offended.
Because Hank Moody has always been a jackass. He’s always slept around, he’s always made bad choices and he’s always pissed people off.
In that first season, though, he was also clever, intelligent, self-depricating and able to turn off his libido when it made sense–like in cases where his daughter or estranged wife were involved. Sure, he still got himself into bad situations and awkward moments, but they were usually big misunderstandings…augmentations of a life that was screwed up, but not out of control.
What made Hank an interesting character, though, was his fight to be a creatively relevant and thoughtful person. He was always struggling to do great work and to craft a life of meaning and substance. He’d say wise things, and he even had the ability to connect with those around him and help them with problems.
Now, not so much. At some point, Mr. Moody has turned into exactly what my female friends thought he was on the pilot episode, and like that annoying best friend that keeps getting drunk and picking fights, I can’t defend him anymore.
This has been an admittedly slow progression. The first season of the show was fantastic…nearly flawless. The second season had to deal with Hank in a monogamous relationship, and it started the whole on-again-off-again nature of Hank and Karen’s relationship. The show lost some steam, but it was still fun.
Season three just kind of laid there without much enthusiasm. The show got more ridiculous, but every time they went too far they’d bring Hank back to the tortured, self-depricating artist I know and love.
Season four solidified the fact that the show has turned to shit. Entertaining shit, but shit nonetheless. Gone are the intelligent musings and emotionally affecting moments. Instead we get melodrama and Hank falling into increasingly ridiculous sexual encounters. He treats women like objects and is incapable of shutting off his jackass ways when the situation calls for it.
And what do you call a jackass who can’t turn it off? An asshole. Hank Moody is now an asshole. Not just that, but his development through the four seasons is wildly unmotivated. Why is he less and less articulate, interesting, thoughtful and intelligent? Because the audience wants to see an idiot manchild have lots of sex. And with season four, that is unabashedly what they got.
But, you may ask, what is the exact point where the season jumped the shark? To be honest, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment. The show was always flirting with that line between tasteful commentary and tasteless sex romp, and I think it crossed the line and redeemed itself a number of times. All I know is that now, after a collection of those moments, it is at least a football field on the wrong side of the fence (sorry to mix metaphors).
I’ll point to three moments, though, that caught my attention. While they might not be specific “jump the shark” moments, they are definitely signposts along the way to the Moody apocalypse.
Exhibit A: Becca’s Band. This season, the show creators saw an awesome opportunity for cross promotion. Becca joined an all-girl band (annoyingly called “Queens of Dogtown”), and guess what? You could get their music online! Every episode, we were treated to the url where you could go to get “more Californication” and listen to Becca’s band. It was pathetic…a tie-in that season one Hank Moody would have openly mocked.
This whole affair spiraled out of control when the girl band performed an in-show live performance and absolutely butchered Alice in Chains. The moment was so weird, I actually turned to a friend and said “They just jumped the shark.”
Exhibit B: Fucking the Attorney. When Carla Gugino was announced as a cast member, I was excited. Not only is she super hot, but she’s a nice character actor and promised an intelligent and quick-witted foil for Hank to play off of.
Plus she was strong-willed and self-sufficient. I was tired of seeing Hank easily lay bimbo after bimbo, and a strong female character acting as Hank’s equal would have been a great idea.
I said at that time, though, that this woman wouldn’t touch Hank with a ten foot pole. If there was ever a woman who would never screw Hank, this was it.
Then she screwed Hank, and the show lost any remaining credibility. If this kind of a self-reliant character could become easy fodder for Hank’s list of easy sexual conquests, there was no limit to the depths the showrunners would sink to. Sex over substance…that’s the new motto of the show, and believability goes out the window.
Exhibit C: The Trial (aka. the revisionist clips show). I feel like this show was simply the icing on the cake, but if you want to point out that one WTF moment in the series, the revisionist trial clip show is it.
I mean seriously…didn’t they figure out this formula didn’t work with the finale of The X-Files? Come on, David…I know you have a longer memory than that.
So Hank is brought in to answer for his crimes (aka having sex with underage Mia in season one), and we are treated to a series of flashbacks to season one as witnesses like Charlie and Karen answer questions on the stand.
This is bad. This is really bad. But what makes it worse? The producers feel the need to rewrite the greatness of season one by showing us scenes that we didn’t see the first time around. Hank drunk at Mia’s pool…meeting her before he saw her at the bookstore. Hank pooping on Mia’s dad’s car. Hank vowing to fuck the wife of the director of A Crazy Little Thing Called Love…hell, Hank throwing threats around left and right like toilet paper.
Basically, they decided that since they’d changed Hank so dramatically in the past three seasons, the producers needed to revise his character in season one and provide the same idiotic and offensive Hank they’ve been cramming down our throats recently. And in the process, they screw with continuity slightly and take a crack at the one season of the show that I still argue is great.
Bad form, people. Shame on you.
On a side note, what about Charlie? The joke used to be that he couldn’t get a garden hose to sleep with him, and he was constantly and endearlingly fawning over his beloved Marcy. Now, though, he has a long line of crazy but stupidly sexy women lining up for him. It’s ridiculous.
In the end, though, Hank Moody is the show. If his character walks that fine line between great artist and trainwreck, we’re all good. It isn’t all about sex and acting like an idiot. Hank doesn’t have to unmotivatedly piss on a golf course to be entertaining.
Here’s my advice to the show writers. Go watch season one. Look at who Hank is and what he’ about. Yes, he should grow and change. But his core values and flaws should stay the same. Because the way things are now, I’m done with Hank Moody. I don’t like him. I don’t respect him. And I don’t even believe that he could ever exist.
To the producers: I’ll be watching season five to find out if there’s hope for the show. If you don’t grab me in the first few episodes, though, I’ll be leaving for good. I know that sex sells, but your show is turning into a thinly veiled porn. With slightly less believable characters.