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.

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'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:

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:

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.

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ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig April 25, 2013 - 9:29am

I always thought Season one would have worked best as a stand alone. I loved the story arc and the ending was great. I wonder if it CAN be saved, or it's just another show that's jumped the shark and can't get back.

I Blogged Your Mom's picture
I Blogged Your Mom is reading Tropic of Cancer and Wolves Of The Calla April 25, 2013 - 9:53am

I absolutely love this show, and I've watched every season multiple times. I've downloaded the music (even the songs they didn't put on the "officially licensed" disks), and I bought the book. I talk about this show to everyone I know, and I call people motherfuckaaaaaaaas whenever appropriate.

With all that said, I can't disagree with your synopsis. The earlier seasons were outstanding, and of all of them, these are the ones I rewatch most often. The writing was beyond anything else on television, and this show was the alter at which I prayed for inspriration while staring for hours at the blank page. Well maybe not that much, I drink as well. Nevertheless, the letters Hank wrote, the lines he uttered, everything was perfect, and that writing team should have never been dismanteled. I stand by my belief that teleivison may never see better wrtiing than those first three seasons. Also, Lew Ashby kicked ass.

I enjoyed this last season, and it could be because it was so much better than Season Five, which was atrotious, so that may not be a ringing endorsement. Yes, there was a ridiculous amount of camp involved, as evidenced by everything you wrote above. Yes, it was overboard. I tend to believe, however, not that Kapinos is out of ideas, but that he is using everyone to show just how ridiculous life in Hollywood has become. I don't care if Ophelia is facing charges, it's not even part of the storyline. She was put there for a reason, to show just how far removed from reality Charlie and Marcy have become without each other. Was it a stretch? Without a doubt. Then again, I absolutely love Stu's character, and he steals every single scene he's in. His character is written very well, and he deliveres the most uncomfortable lines with perfect deadpan. Something had to be done, but I agree, she wasn't it. Still, it was funny to watch Charlie wake up on my pool table screaming "who pissed on my pants?"

The poignant moments (and there were more than a few) were unfortunately brused aside for the sake of humor. You're right in that everyone has become a caricracture of the roles they are supposed to be playing. The engaging darkness of the series is no longer in balance with dick jokes. Don't get me wrong, dick jokes have their place in this series, but the art of the dick joke is in its subtly, and they have become too prominant. They should never be made in at the expense of Hank's character development. The series is missing Hank's letters. They were so very well used to progress his mental state, but I cannot remember the last time they showed him writing one. Season Four, maybe, with the accidental overdose.

Not all was lost with this season, however. Faith was a well written character, and she somehow avoided all the pitfalls into which the other characters landed. It did not dawn on me until the end why I found her character so engaging. She was written like Hank used to be written, with undertones of darkness that become readily apparent at inopportune times for the character. She too was chasing what she couldn't have, and what she didn't want to admit she wanted. We saw little bits into her, usually through other people saying things about her, and that ancillary information painted a blurred picture. She wasn't over the top, so we wanted to see more about her. She provided a good balance for Hank, had Hank been written like he was three seasons ago. Nothing makes sense as to why Hank and Karen are not together, and I wish it would have been addressed. Season Five ended with Karen wanting him back, and it was never explained why that didn't happen during Season Six.

With all this being said, guest stars have made this show great. With the exception of Rza and Ophelia, I think they have hit it out of the park. Rob Lowe's character is great, and Lew Ashby was a highlight of the season. Batesy's character owns scenes.

So that's that. I am a hardcore fan, much like yourself, and I need the show to get back to it's roots. I'm in my thirties, and I am also a writer. I am also the core audience. I love this show and I will continue to watch it and hope if this next season is the last, we get some vintage Hank back. Seeing as how this next season is going to be dealing with television land, something Kapinos knows well, I hope he does it right.

Arturo Bandini's picture
Arturo Bandini from Denver, CO is reading Beautiful Ruins April 25, 2013 - 11:48am



- sorry, double post.

Arturo Bandini's picture
Arturo Bandini from Denver, CO is reading Beautiful Ruins April 25, 2013 - 11:46am

The first two seasons were great. The dialogue was so sharp and witty and easily the best TV has had to offer in many years.

The third season started to lose me a bit, but had a great final two episodes.  I thought the show was back on track for season 4.  I had to watch season 4 on DVD from the library, so maybe watching all of it in 3 days affected my opinion, but I thought that was the season that the show jumped Fonzie's shark.  Season 5 and 6 were just downright ridiculous and the dialogue became adolescent level sex jokes and, as you say, "shock for shock's sake". I mean, a rapper and a hard rocker? Really? That's the direction you thought was best? That's the definition of "mailing it in".

I didn't even finsh this last season yet.  The only thing that even kept me coming back was Grace (Damn! She'd be worth having Liam Neeson chasing after me!)

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine April 25, 2013 - 12:01pm

I don't think I've watched since season 3, and even at that point I was getting bored.

electriclady's picture
electriclady November 13, 2013 - 8:53am

couldn't agree more. I'm struggling to get through season 6's woeful, offensive, crass and downright simple episides. I feel for Duchovney and Mcelhone et al, they're better than this, this show is(was) better than this...My message to the writers: Either wrap it up and call it quits or buck up your ideas and remember what made this compelling stuff in the first place. It wasn't the sex or toilet humour that made us love Hank and his drama, we loved him despite that, and because of his humanity, his humour, humility and intelligence. Don't desecrate on a perfectly decent character....

...get better or start digging the metaphorical TV grave.

George Spiggott's picture
George Spiggott December 1, 2013 - 11:31am

Critical or not, the article is true. The entire series has become a caricature of itself. All of the edgy moments are rehashed and the star-crossed lover angle pulls itself off the canvas more than any punchdrunk boxer ever could. There are very few stories involving writers where the subject has quality writing and Califonication took 5 seasons to join the norm. I'm not certain why I watched all of Season 6 but I hoped, the entire time, Moody would end up with Faith and the show would attempt to traverse some new ground. I was so disappointed with the ending, I swore off the show and think there is no question about it: Californication cannot be saved.

Carly Berg's picture
Carly Berg from USA is reading Story Prompts That Work by Carly Berg is now available at Amazon December 1, 2013 - 3:42pm

I've never watched it. Just wanted to say I hate the name. If they're going to merge words, imo they need to blend them in a pleasing way, or at least be somewhat smooth or humorous. Brangelina= good. Californication= butt stupid. So there.

Percy Dlamini's picture
Percy Dlamini from South Africa is reading Everything is Illuminated, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Shadow of The Wind December 11, 2013 - 1:40pm

i sigh with the season 1 and 2 fans. but fortunately, or not, i gave up on expecting season after season of quality content from anything that 'goes big' in the mainstream. it's the same with music really, watch a band blow up, and out the window goes their heart and spirit. *shrugs shoulders*

Damian Renty's picture
Damian Renty April 1, 2014 - 11:27pm

You are too, young right now. Just keep living, and you will understand beyond all of the cute shit.

whiskey_neat's picture
whiskey_neat from Chicago is reading End of Alice April 13, 2014 - 10:42am

As a devoted Californication fan, I would love to disagree with you...but I can't. In my opinion, Lew Ashby and Sue Collini saved the show when it was about to crawl into a corner and die due to many of the flaws you pointed out. 

I'm looking forward to tonights premier. I hope the show makes a good run to the finish line and that Hank and Karen get back together. However, I'm with you: I can't care less about the supporting characters - any of them. 

The one thing I disagree with you about is Ophelia and her lack of consequence. Was it ridiculous? Yes. But c'mon. It's a 27 minute show and she's a 4-5 episode character. I couldn't care less to see her prosecuted for kidnapping/tasing people. Could you imagine a court scene where she pleads guilty or not? Cali was right in limiting her storyline and just moving on. 

Otherwise, a very fair and balanced review of a show "we" - as fans and writers - root for but have been let down by in many ways. 

Here's hoping the Kapinos glass is half-full...

Kunal Chatkara's picture
Kunal Chatkara September 19, 2014 - 4:13am

Deleted .

Kunal Chatkara's picture
Kunal Chatkara September 19, 2014 - 4:12am

I mean, you watched the show. You watched it. All of it to the last season. If it were so irritatingly carbon copy, as it is. Why not just quit while you were ahead? Instead of the extra curricular dissertation of frustration and critique. I mean, people do know, Hate reeks of obsession. I'm an obsessive at some degree too. I see it though. That's what makes it forgivably easier to swallow.

Kunal Chatkara's picture
Kunal Chatkara September 19, 2014 - 4:10am

Deleted upon sobering up.

Mark Stark's picture
Mark Stark September 28, 2014 - 2:28pm

And season 7 did not get better. The only reason I watched season 7 was to see when Levon was unmask as a con artist. Having zero resemblance to his mother or father I expected him to be an impostor. How disappointing.

I should have seen it coming though, after all Hank's daughter Becca had zero resemblance to her parents either. She looked like the love child of Jay Leno and Marvin, the manic-depressive robot from the hitchhiker's guide.

A prime example how kids with influential hollywood parents (Madeleine Martin and Oliver Cooper) get roles they have no business to be in.

ajmeagor's picture
ajmeagor June 29, 2015 - 11:48am

My OCD is the only reason i made myself suffer through this glorified hidden tele novela. The real kicker is the irony this show has to splodge out from it's pretty little penis. Hank is a hollywood hater, a sell out despiser, yet this show is the biggest spoon feeder to the plastic community i have seen since Hollyoaks.

Oh poor Hank everyone says, depression, anxiety, emptiness, addiction, but this only exposed the pretty side of depression. This American hero style playback plays into the cattle's hands. It was never his fault, it was just so coincidental that Karen has to walk in on him, just as a "broad" would take advantage. (which happened maybe 10 times) . Deep down he was never to blame, yet luck wasn't on his side. He was supposed to be an original character, but turned to the biggest cliches whenever luck bent him over. He was in an ugly situation, yet the show continued to maintain the pretty status. This show contrived this unstoppable womanizer, showing just how easy a depressed writer can bed thousands of wannabe's yet maintaining his handsome depressed badass caliber. Trying to conduct this badass rockstar image so truly unique and combining it with this caring talented loving amazing lover and father, and it was a fucking catastrophe.

Lew Ashby was the one truly defined character on the show, and made it barely watchable. Lew knew he was a cunt but this made him likeable. It was the only difference between Hank and Lew, but it was a massive difference. The impression i got from Hank was that he would have a teenage orgy stationed in his wife's bed, and then save a dolphin being punched to death. True American hero style.

I really couldn't watch some of the scenarios Californication has to offer. It was a coincidental nightmare. He would stroll in like an amateur rockstar to a new job offer or a complete stranger's house, and there would stand one of his companions. Connected somehow, by a make believe shitty storyline.

The Character I realized to be Hank was self centered, narcissistic, egocentric, intrusive, ignorant, demeaning, and thought of himself to be untouchable, as the show try to forge this loving, talented, courageous ultramasculine figure, an icon in the making. Spawning this Ross and Rachel type of relationship. Yet, it just turned really pathetic and boring. This show did not move me at all, it moved my dick more than anything, yet porn can also do this. I may add that I have seen better storylines and acting in porn.

Season 1 and 5 are the only watchable seasons, but on the bright side, the music isn't half bad. It's Hollywood trying to create a hip, dark rom com, but in reality, they crapped out a Hollywood style feces, rose tinted, but deep down, it's just shit that i could have outgrowthed. 

showingmeallthedirtypictures's picture
showingmeallthe... March 1, 2019 - 10:09pm

Season 1 was the perfect season and the very beginning of californication is perfect.

I never thought it should ever have gone beyond the first season. true there are definetly some loose ends to wrap up but season 2 really stalls at addressing them.

Season 2 the scene where he goes we have a failure to communicate and then grabs out a shotgun and fires it into the ceiling. not really sure how he never suffers consequences for this.

Season 3 is a very good season. It also stalls at addressing the circumstances. his scenes with the ta are very sweet.

Season 4 some very good scenes here it took a very long time to get to the point.

Season 5  this season tries to transform hank through facing consequences, but this defeats the purpose of the show. I'm not sure if this is the season of the show where hank is raped. his concern for his rapist is heartwarming and sickly funny.

I'm not actually sure if i've seen the other seasons.

The last season of the show is it's saddest. you can tell because the character that plays levon is a voice actor from final fantasy 13 which is an allegory about the iraq war. all the characters in that game also care about each other deeply. hank moody does everything right in this season.(maybe not hard to say) the point is the other characters have to pick up the slack to even give the show it's namesake. levon is hank moody's son. he doesn't know about him and considering the number of times he's had sex. (well his wife has considerable reason to be upset.) hank is doing everything right in this season. the problem is he can't abandon his kids and he can't abandon his wife. (all, in this season) are dead set on abandoning him. now there are very few heartwarming moments with karen in this season. If you were to go by this season alone despite the fact that there aren't many scenes with her you could swear heather graham is a perfect match for hank moody. so what began as hank moody being a badass hipster who always had the perfect line when come on(let's face it those lines took more time then you normally have to say them). Also, even in the beginning seasons hank moody is saying and doing things that would land him in perpetual confinement. He is also saying things that make him badass to many but are heavily dependent on the person that he's talking to. In order words, his risks don't work in the real world.