The playboy/adulterer has been a staple of early 21st-century TV: Charlie Harper of Two and a Half Men, Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother, Christian Troy of Nip/Tuck, even Carrie’s beloved Big. (Maybe Tony Soprano made adultery cool again.) Not that we haven’t seen the type before, but in sheer numbers, this is the era of the TV dawg, cad, and oh-so-charming philanderer.
Californication has been interesting in that it’s been about the consequences of being a cad (Are Hank and Karen just Barney and Robin if they’d stayed together?). To some degree, from having a child out of wedlock to the flame-out of a novelist’s career, the show looks at the fallout from bad decisions and, amid all its raunchiness and some whip-smart dialogue, at the problems of cleaning up morning-after messes.
We’re oceanside this week at Venice Beach, and Hank is in furious clean-up mode with Karen, turning on the charm and begging for sex. “It has been some time since we have lain together as man and woman,” he tells her. “It’s going to be quite some time,” she replies. (If only that were true — Karen is such a Hank recidivist Dolly Parton should write a song about her.) But his harshest rejection comes from agent Sue Collini. “Ah,” she greets him, cuttingly. “The writer who doesn’t write.”
All this feminine disdain spurs a “night out with the boys.” Hank and Charlie go on a bar crawl in Venice Beach while Karen, Becca, and Marcy go out to dinner at an Italian restaurant and whine about men. At the bar, Hank waxes nostalgic about a breakfast Karen cooked for him once and muses about her anger, still not getting it. “I thought we had an understanding, we did ... we were being very adult and European about it,” he says of his affairs while she was in New York. To be fair to Hank, he’s right. But he still doesn’t grok the difference between privately pursuing others and hosting a simultaneous triumvirate of affairs with women likely to run into each other, his girlfriend, and his kid.
Plus, sometimes he’s just a thoughtless nincompoop: He gives Becca an autographed copy of a novel of his that he’s stolen, half drunk, out of a bookstore. But he’s autographed it to an ex-girlfriend with thanks for her skills at oral sex. He thinks Becca will find this ... meaningful? funny? Assume that any gift from the famous Hank Moody will be valuable someday? That’s the delight of the “cad” character: He’s simultaneously hero and villain.
As always, Hank’s best foil is Charlie, the Tubbs to his Crockett, and there’s a funny moment where the two are “accused” of being homosexuals. Hank, rather than opting for the cliché bar fight, simply kisses Charlie — then delivers the cliché punch. “I believe our manhood was just assailed,” he says. Then, there is a brief, scary stick-up in a convenience store where they’ve gone to buy more liquor. (“I have a daughter,” Charlie cries to the gunman, in a particularly cowardly moment.) The danger is resolved in about eight seconds, and only really appears to push Hank to an existential crisis, beyond which he supposedly realizes what a fool he’s been all along. Really? We’ve been here before, without the sea breezes, and the breakthrough is hard to buy.
The two men awaken in a car on the beach, realizing they’ve gotten tattoos with their lovers’ names. At dawn, Hank breezes through the door, quick to assure Karen he didn’t spend the night with someone else. So, who wants a lover who has to Twitter moment-by-moment updates on where his penis has been? Apparently Karen, who, seeing the tattoo, caves: They reconcile as she cooks him breakfast. If the viewer is supposed to be happy the star-crossed, meant-to-be-together lovers are finally back together, it doesn’t work this time. We can think of other things for her to do with that frying pan.
Danny Gallagher on TV Squad likens the episode to The Dukes of Hazzard, and longs for a Waylon Jennings voice-over about the “quesadilla of trouble” the boys have gotten themselves into.