Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Levon" Shakes Up CALIFORNICATION Final Season

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Showtime’s CALIFORNICATION kicks off its final season with “Levon.” Hank (David Duchovny) leaves the road to fly back into the arms of the woman he loves, Karen (Natascha McElhone). But although the series gives us the storybook ending up front, that’s all in Hank’s head, and their actual first encounter is not anything like Hank had hoped for. Now, Hank must finally work on improving himself if he ever wants to win back Karen for good.

All of CALIFORNICATION has been about Hank’s arrested development. Time after time, Hank has screwed up. He’s screwed up with love, he’s screwed up with work, he’s screwed up at being a father to Becca (Madeleine Martin). Now, the end is nigh and Hank is tired of screwing up. Season seven might actually be the year in which Hank (gasp!) matures.

I really, really hope Hank gets the ending he wants. He’s a flawed man, to be sure, but he’s still the protagonist, and he never has done anything to deserve misery. Almost all of his mistakes are simple, forgivable errors, and circumstance plays as much as role as Hank’s own actions, though he doesn’t usually do himself any favors, either. Yet, there’s something earnest and sweet about Hank that makes one root for him, even when there’s not an overwhelming reason to do so. This part of Hank must be cultured so he can be rewarded.

Obviously, Hank is motivated to better himself for Karen’s sake. But Karen isn’t the only reason Hank needs to grow up. By Karen refusing to just get back with Hank, it takes away that immediate goal. This gives time Hank to improve for his own sake, and while Karen will always be in the back of his mind, he may actually find intrinsic motivation, too.

Step one of the New Hank is to find a job. Atticus has fired Hank and Charlie (Evan Handler) out of boredom, and because Aaron Sorkin became available, so Hank must find some bridge he hasn’t yet burned, a rarity in Los Angeles. Charlie points out that Hank has ruined writing jobs for books, movies, and Broadway shows, so there aren’t a lot of options left. The obvious experience still remaining? Television, the lowest art form in Hank’s mind.

Can Hank overcome his prejudices? His opinions and pride are things that have caused trouble in the past, and Hank isn’t much for being humble. Still, given the right carrot, perhaps Hank can find a way to get over himself, and maybe even come to like the medium.

Hank’s new boss, Rick Rath (Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos), should be able to help him succeed. He admits to seeing a bit of himself in Hank, believes in a good redemption story, and won’t humor Hank if his behavior goes to crap. At least this is the right environment for Hank to do well in, so if he puts his mind to it, he’s got a chance.

In true CALIFORNICATION form, the opportunity that presents itself is tied to Hank’s past, no one in the show ever escaping what’s come before. I won’t spoil what the project is, but Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky) is involved, and the title will be familiar to fans of the show.

There is another element to Hank’s story that I haven’t mentioned yet. The name of the episode is “Levon,” and there’s a character named Levon (Oliver Cooper, Project X) in it, a college kid who wants to interview Hank for his newspaper. I will say, the twist concerning Levon, one sure to keep him around for the rest of the series, is easy to see coming from a mile away, and feels tacked on in the final season of the show. And yet, the music choice for the ending of the episode and Duchovny’s trademark sneer nails the emotion so damn well that I find myself excusing the predictability, and even seeing a way this could really be good for the show and the character of Hank.

Of course Charlie and Marcy (Pamela Adlon) have a bit of story in “Levon,” too. Their renewed marriage isn’t going so well because Charlie is haunted by their time spent apart, especially what they did with others during their break. It’s regrettable, but also not unexpected. At least they seem committed to making the union work, so getting back to a good place will give them a satisfying arc for season seven.

To be honest, it took a lot not to just marathon the whole seventh year of CALIFORNICATION in one sitting today (thank you, Showtime, for making them all available, by the way), and it’s an impulse I likely won’t be able to resist long. This is such a good, solid show, and the growth and exploration of the characters is very compelling. “Levon” not only continues that trend, but also really tees up what looks to be a near-perfect last year, so I am eager to watch it. I hope you will be, too.

CALIFORNIATION airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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