Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: Californication's diminishing returns

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TV reviewer Chris Philpott laments the demise of Californication, saying the once great show has become stale and predictable.
David Duchovny as Hank Moody in Californication.
David Duchovny as Hank Moody in Californication.

No matter how many positive spins I tried to put on it, I just couldn't get myself pumped up for the season premiere of Californication.

New episodes of the show - which stars former The X Files lead David Duchovny as self-destructive oaf and occasionally brilliant writer Hank Moody - returned to our screens last night for the first time in more than a year.

But the massive delay wasn't the problem. I mean, it was still a problem: forcing viewers to wait around 15 months for a show which aired nearly a year ago in its home country is unforgiveable, even by New Zealand's delay-happy standards.

Heck, we've been waiting so long for Californication to return that its sixth season - which started on Four last night - has long since been forgotten, and announcements have already been made that the show will be amicably cancelled after its upcoming seventh season.

Like most fans, I greeted that news with a strong "sure, whatever".

I guess we can only hope we might see season seven before the end of 2015. Don't hold your breath.

No, the delay wasn't the problem - nor was the momentum-sucking news of its impending doom. Instead, I'd like to posit that the real problem with Californication, the root cause of any and all lack of viewer enthusiasm, is that it has gotten less and less satisfying with each new season, perhaps even with each new episode.

I'll admit, I loved Californication when it burst onto the scene back in 2007. There was something exciting about seeing one of my teenage heroes - Fox Mulder - as a womanising drunk, and its depiction of fame and celebrity as a gritty, soul-sucking downward spiral contrasted nicely with how Hollywood is usually portrayed on screen.

The first season was as funny as it was subversive, often presenting us with unique stories and scenarios, and taking us into new and unexpected directions that most other shows wouldn't dream of attempting.

Californication, as it exists at the start of season six, is still funny and subversive.

The problem is that it is still funny and subversive in that exact same way. Nothing has changed. The show is still doing the same things, running us through the same story beats as it has for years. The same old character flaws - and character dynamics - are used to drive the story. The laughs are still based on the same childish ideas. And it still seems to think words like "vagina" are shocking.

Last night's season six premiere didn't give us anything new or interesting. Carrie, Hank's crazy ex-girlfriend who drugged both of them at the end of season five, died of a drug overdose. Hank responded by going on a bender and ending up in rehab, which is really just an excuse to get him clean and put him in a room with new and attractive women with whom he can cheat on occasional girlfriend Karen, which in turn causes drama between Hank and his daughter, Becca, later in the season and ensures that he can reunite with Karen at some point toward the end.

They could almost release a Writing Californication For Dummies book at this point. Chapter two would almost certainly say "spend a single scene in the first episode introducing a crazy, drug-addled [insert entertainer type] who wants to adapt one of Hank's books into [insert entertainment format]". The season six premiere ticked that box, too: enter Atticus Fetch, a crazy, drug-addled rock star who wants to turn one of Hank's books into a Broadway show.

The only silver lining for the show, Fetch, is played by the rather funny musical comedian Tim Minchin, who stole the opening episode with a hilarious scene on a private jet.

Minchin aside, this was an utterly forgettable reintroduction to a show that has become horribly stale. Californication once seemed smart and subversive, it's name synonymous with shock. Now it just seems like a facile self-parody of the show it used to be. It isn't shocking. It isn't satisfying. And more and more often, it just isn't funny.

On second thought, maybe we should delay season seven for a couple of years.

What do you think of Californication? Do you agree that it is getting worse over time? Or is it as good as ever?

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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