Californication: Expelled

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Photo: Courtesy of Showtime
Episode Title
Mr. Bad Example
Season
3
Episode
9

Somebody throws a punch this week, and it's Becca. Furious that her best friend calls Hank a homewrecker — a charge Becca grants is true, but can’t abide — she pushes Chelsea into a vending machine. Hank hears of all this in a phone call from the principal. And, as adolescent in this episode as he’s ever been, he’s delighted: “That’s my girl!”

So both sets of parents get called to the “Mayflower School” for a dressing down. Hank has stupidly not prepared Karen for running into Chelsea’s parents, whose home he’s wrecked. As Felicia brags about their affair, Karen is incensed. It’s a running joke, and a good one, of this series that the women Hank cheats on are never as upset by his infidelity as they are by his poor choice of rivals.

But Becca’s the star of this show this time around. She gets a key scene this week, when she calls everybody out for sucking her into their relentless chaos. A lot of otherwise decent teenage actresses (Lindsay Lohan) would be tempted to go big on this, but Madeleine Martin is the Mr. Spock of adolescent pain: “I need to know what my life will be.” Karen isn’t quite equipped to answer this, and we finally see some of the sainted mother’s flaws: her blind refusal to see Hank for what he is; her ditziness; that she’s a snob. “You’ll never get in a private school into New York,” she says after Becca is expelled, a potentially wrenching experience that none of the parents seems to take too seriously. (Would a tony school really toss out the daughters of a famous author or the local college dean so cavalierly? Now we know we’re not in New York City.)

Rick Springfield, meanwhile, has gotten even better playing a shaggy-dog train wreck of a man. Thrilled to misuse his teen-idol status (he brags about refusing to use condoms with groupies), he falls apart in this episode. But not before getting Charlie fired and breaking Marcy’s heart. It’s a charming scene when Charlie comforts Marcy because Rick hasn’t called her for three days. The weirdness of their elastic marriage allows for all sorts of unexpected humor and tenderness.

The episode is also an occasion for Hank to revisit his truest, cleanest relationship: his friendship with Charlie. At one point, Charlie, in tears over the loss of his job, his marriage, and — if Hank moves — his friend, cuddles with the author on his couch. Evan Handler, hasn’t been given his due this season. He’s always been the comic relief, or Sue Collini’s whipping boy, literally. So this moment feels real, with Charlie as one of the few people Hank doesn’t cheat on. But, because this is Californication they are interrupted by a student, who somehow manages to work in advice on how to score coke. That leads improbably to a snake bite, a chase with a college security guard, Dean Koons hitting on Karen, and even more hints that next season will be set in New York. (Although, sadly, I don’t think that will ultimately happen — Karen’s just too fed up.)

It all ends with Felicia bidding both Hank and her marriage adieu, thanking the professor for her new lease on life — which seems to let him off the hook a bit too easily. But, then, that’s Hank Moody’s story.

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Josh Gajewski, writing in the L.A. Times, wishes that the show “spent a little more time with Becca and a little less time with Hank.”