Columns > Published on April 25th, 2013

All the Reasons Californication is Terrible Now

Dear Tom Kapinos and everyone else responsible for Californication,

What the hell happened? Are you guys okay?

I used to love this show. I used to be invested in the characters and care about their relationships. There was a story, the dialogue was sharp, and Duchovny’s portrayal of tortured novelist, Hank Moody, was a slow motion trainwreck I couldn’t help but watch. It appeared you guys finally cracked the code of the “rock star author” archetype that so many get wrong, an almost tragic figure that one admires—but at the same time—pities for his personal shortcomings. Hank Moody, for better or worse, was a character that I couldn’t stop paying attention to…then it started to change. You jumped the shark, then you jumped a few more sharks. Now the show is nothing but that.

It’s like you guys have a full tank of gas but have no clue where the hell you’re going. You’ve got these wonderful characters that either repeat the mistakes they’ve made in previous seasons or you have them do things for shock value and that alone. You push them past personal thresholds with the thinnest of motivations. Poor Hank Moody is no longer the tortured artist I rooted for; he’s just bad performance art. This entire show is bad performance art.

Shock for the sake of shock

For those of you that aren't writers and aren't hip to our jargon, that's when you have a character do something gross or unsavory for no damn reason other than to give the audience a nice little jolt. Series creator and writer, Tom Kapinos, can't even get through one episode without holding his metaphorical stun gun to our necks and pressing the button. Don't worry, I'm packing clips on some of these.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcYk6NE5V_A]

So you have Hank piss into a liquor bottle and drink it. What’s my reaction supposed to be? A good-natured cringe a la Tosh.0? A cheap laugh? Am I supposed to feel bad for Hank and say, “Oh my God, that guy really needs help.” It’s just toilet humor, guys. It’s the same shit that Scary Movie V is using. Maybe you should check out their Rotten Tomatoes rating and see how all that worked out. But wait, the cheap shock doesn't stop with poo poo and pee pee, does it? No, it wouldn't be Californication if we weren't regularly pushing the envelope.

Episode 02: After Stu treats Marcy to some very fine weed and oral stimulation, she wakes up to find her son standing over them, a table full of ganja, and a still buzzing vibrator. Marcy screams, "Worst! Mother! Ever!" Meanwhile, the realist in me is asking where child services is.

Episode 04: At a very important pitch meeting, Charlie's client, Ronnie Mac, humps him over the desk of a producer while wearing a leather daddy outfit. I'll repeat that: it's a pitch meeting. The humping thing happens during the pitch meeting. I mean, why stop there? Why not just have the entire room get their hump on? Oh...and the pitch is successful, by the way. You may not realize it, but Hollywood producers often decide to toss millions of dollars at projects when two men hump in their office. Humping is what sells.

Episode 07: OMG!! Marilyn Manson doing cocaine?! Say whaaaaa? So, it's not just shock...it's celebrity shock!!

Episode 10: Faith has a dream about Atticus Fetch in the guise of Christ. He rips himself down off the cross, smokes something (we'll assume it's weed), then proceeds to have a hardcore make out session with Faith. So now we're working the religious shock angle. Just remember that: when all else fails, just have Christ do something very unChrist-like. That always gets the attention of the audience.

Sex! Whatever the situation is, just add sex!

This is in the same vein as the shock thing, but when we're not getting potty humor and other cheap thrills, Tom Kapinos loves to play the sex card. A lot. He can't get away from it. The thing is a crutch. Now I love a good sex scene as much as the next guy, but Californication has this random, senseless, this-doesn't-need-to-make-sense-just-enjoy-the-titties thing going on that is irritating as all hell. Watch the clip to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nifTNFTsWNQ]

Something does not add up here. We've got the watered-down Josh Holloway and hot little sex kitten assistant...and they're fighting over Charlie Runkle? Bald, pale, and pudgy Runkle? And seriously, when's the last time you've ever heard a women say, "If you have a moment, I'd love to suck your dick." What hyper-sexual reality is this where hot women beg for the cock of dumpy shlubs? Regardless, you can probably see where that situation goes: Runkle hooks up with the assistant (we get our required female nudity), Ronnie Mac walks in wanting oral services, Runkle is put in the position of suck or get fired...and that's how you use sex to forward the plot, people. Make your character's fate dependent on a blowjob.

Not to worry, the sex anytime, anywhere, for any reason doesn't stop there.

Episode 01: Charlie takes Hank to meet British rocker, Atticus Fetch, on his private jet—aptly named, Airforce 69 (tee hee hee!!). And how do with find Atticus? Laid out on a massage table getting a tug-job from one of his hot airline attendants.

Episode 02: It's Hank's first group meeting in rehab. During the hand-holding circle, a tweaker puts her hands down Hank's pants to grab his cock. Because that's what tweakers do, right? They just randomly grab any dick they can get their hands on. Oh, and later that night, Hank wakes up to the aforementioned tweaker raping him.

Episode 03: Charlie watches gay porn to see if it will arouse him...because there's no way he wouldn't know that otherwise, right?

Episode 03: Hank and Faith attend a funeral together for her former rock star flame. Hank runs into the widow of the bereaved, Trudy (played by an over-the-top Alanna Ubach). Within two minutes of meeting, Trudy is on her knees giving Hank a blowjob. In broad daylight. No rhyme or reason to it. I guess this is how Tom Kapinos thinks blowjobs happen.

Episode 06: To ease Charlie's flight anxiety, Trudy gives Charlie a handjob. Later, when the plane is supposedly crashing, she demands that Charlie sodomize her. Keep track of these brilliant writing formulas, guys. Airplane crash + sodomy = ratings.

Episode 07: Charlie takes his kid to a Chuck E. Cheese like establishment known as Fun Zone. While there, Charlie is approached by another parent, Tricia. Tricia convinces Charlie to meet her in the bathroom so that she can film him getting blown by her for her sex website. Yet again, we have sex happening within minutes of two characters meeting each other. Do you see a pattern yet?

Episode 09: Atticus Fetch is caught by his wife eating a candy bar out of a groupie's snatch. At this point, I'm not even shocked anymore. I'm just wondering why Tom Kapinos didn't use a more offensive food like boneless buffalo wings or Jalapeño poppers. A candy bar seems tame. 

Make every character so exaggerated they become a caricature

Let's reflect back on some of our favorite nutballs for a moment. Seinfeld had Kramer. Trainspotting had Begbie. 30 Rock employed the brilliant pairing of Jenna and Tracy. What do we get in Californication? A slew of them. We're inundated with these over-the-top "characters" that have no rules, no real motivations, and basically operate as an extension of the shock for shock's sake/sex-anytime, anywhere principle. Here's another clip:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgLPphUZjTY]

So you have Runkle pretend to be gay to land a big client? Okay, I can see that. Runkle is just desperate enough to pull some shit like that, and I’ll admit, watching him squirm in his own skin played well up to a point. As always though, Tom Kapinos had to push it way harder than it needed to be pushed. Keep in mind, this is an A-list client and Charlie's boss we're having a sit-down with...and the question they ask is, "How many dicks have you sucked today?” Do gay people actually ask these kinds of questions? Maybe in the world of Tom Kapinos they do. Yet again, the viewers are given a couple of characters they can't take seriously because they are in no way grounded in reality...not even TV reality. We're back into the realm of bad performance art.

Atticus Fetch: Our ginger-haired Russell Brand tribute. Tom Kapinos lets that Brit-rocker caricature off the chain by having Atticus regularly running through the cycles of drugs, sex, and sometimes (rarely) making music. He answers his front door naked and eats candy bars out of random groupies. His audition for Charlie to be his management is tracking down a particular guitar and one pound of blow. There's rarely a moment when this guy isn't melting down. 

Ronnie Mac: The gay A-lister in need of a gay-gent. The above clip only scratches the surface. Tom Kapinos takes every gay stereotype and applies it to Ronnie Mac, right down to the leather daddy outfit and always-needing-cock syndrome. I literally can't recall a scene where Ronnie isn't trying to hump something/somebody, get blown, or just generally trying to turn the conversation to sex. I'm surprised the LGBT community hasn't called out Tom Kapinos yet for this since it goes well-beyond satire; the Ronnie Mac character makes gay people seem like degenerates.

Ophelia: The man-hating feminist author. She uses new-age terms like "she-nis" and berates every man that comes within a ten-foot radius. Oh, and she has a stun gun that she regularly zaps people with (and NEVER, not once, gets in trouble for). At one point she convinces Stu to wear something called a "cock cage," which is a type of male chastity device...because all feminists want to cage penises, I guess. Her climax of the season manifests in the form of her chaining up Marcy and Charlie in her basement...and again, no cops called once they escape. Ophelia spends the duration of her screen time hating men, caging dicks, and zapping people, all to the tune of no consequences.   

Trudy: Ugh! Trudy! The widow of the dead rocker who's constantly sucking, tugging, or taking the male member in one hole or another. And when she's not doing that, she's staggering around drunkenly with her skirt pulled up over her ass and slurring in that terrible accent. That's it, guys. I'm sorry, but her synopsis doesn't go beyond that. It's a character like this that honestly makes me wonder if Tom Kapinos is even trying.

Everything good about this show has been buried

I know this season had a story. Hank struggled with substance abuse, with writing, and with his decision to keep pursuing Karen or start fresh/cut his losses. Meanwhile, chaos ensued around him. That's what this season was...and the one before it...and the one before it. We've been here before, guys. This isn't new territory. This is the same product repackaged in a slightly different way...and I've stopped caring.

I don't care if Hank and Karen get back together. I don't care if Marcy and Charlie actually work out. I'm not rooting for their success anymore because this whole thing is a shit show. There's no rules. There are no stakes. Every supporting character is a court jester and the mains are making the same screw-ups they have been for many seasons. And when Tom Kapinos does give us that rare genuine moment, he buries it in shock, cheap sex, drug usage, and potty humor. Instead of further developing Hank, he'd rather have him drink his own piss. Rather than flesh Charlie out, we see Charlie fleshing himself out to gay porn. All season I was either rolling my eyes or shaking my head in shame.

Yes, this article is slew of criticism...criticism that Tom Kapinos and the head brass over at Showtime will probably shrug off. Keep this in mind though: I'm a thirty-year-old male, I've watched every single season (some of them multiple times), and I'm an author. For all intents and purposes, I'm your target audience. What does that say about this show when the target audience can't stand to watch it anymore?

Now, is the show beyond saving? Of course not. But you have to stop depending on the crutches. You can't keep watering this thing down with your little shock moments and having characters hooking up literally within minutes of meeting each other. It's these moments that keep me from investing in Hank Moody as a character, that make me not give a shit if the whole Karen thing works out. When he arrived at her door in the finale looking to get her back, I wasn't hopeful or rooting for their reconciliation. For some reason, I have a feeling that whatever happens between them in the season 7 premiere it won't matter. You'll keep giving us the same old shit until Showtime decides to pull the plug.

About the author

Brandon Tietz is the author of Out of Touch and Good Sex, Great Prayers. His short stories have been widely published, appearing in Warmed and Bound, Amsterdamned If You Do, Spark (vol. II), and Burnt Tongues, the Chuck Palahniuk anthology. Visit him at www.brandontietz.com
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