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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CALIFORNICATION Doesn't Quite Land With "Grace"

Article first published as TV Review: 'Californication' - Series Finale on Blogcritics.

C1Showtime’s Californication completes a seven-season run this week with “Grace.” No matter how badly Hank (David Duchovny) screws things up (and he always screws things up) there have consistently been threads of love and hope sprinkled throughout the series. Thus, with the final episode, we knows there must be a happy ending, not just for Hank, but for all of those in his life, beloved family and misfit friends alike. That’s exactly what “Grace” delivers, if a tad too easily.

Hank must end up with Karen (Natascha McElhone); even the most casual viewer knows that. The problem is, “Grace” lets them work things out far too quickly. Halfway through the episode, Hank is pondering the idea of getting back together with Julia (Heather Graham), his other baby momma. Then, on a whim, he writes Karen a beautiful letter, runs to meet her on the plane she’s taking to their daughter’s wedding. But wait! They’re a couple again? Where is the lesson learned? Where is Hank’s self-examination of all his wrong-doing? Karen accepts him for who he is, and it’s just done?

Californication has spent much time on this pair, going back and forth with their love story. At times, they’ve been very, very close, and at other times, they couldn’t be further apart. Throughout this final season, it’s been the latter, with Hank trying to be a good dad to the son he only recently learns about, while Karen is off-stage. And when she does show up, she disapproves of Hank and his actions. The viewer sees Hank mature and learn from his past, finally being responsible. But Karen hasn’t witnessed the transformation. So why would she take him back?

I guess, as much as I approve of the emotional note on which “Grace” ends, complete with good callbacks, I’m just deeply disappointed that the Hank/Karen closer doesn’t seem earned. It could have been with a little more finesse, maybe even just another half hour of the story. Instead, it comes across as very tacked on, and not serving the two characters we’ve come to know over the years very authentically.

Is that intentional? Do the writers known that Hank will always mess up again if the camera lingers too long? After all, the opening scene is a dream sequence of Hank’s daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) reminding him of his failings. That’s why I almost thought Californication might leave Hank single, knowing he can’t help himself with his vices. This would be very dark, darker than show’s usual tone, but it would be appropriate.

The rest of the half hour is quite sweet. Charlie (Evan Handler) and Marcie (Pamela Adlon) can’t bring themselves to sleep with other people, but they still get the million dollars from Stu (Stephen Tobolowsky), who is somewhat satisfied with his love doll. Levon (Oliver Cooper) has a moment with his dad, who helps him treat a woman decently, and Hank seems to set up Levon’s mother, Julia, with lonely Rick Rath (Michael Imperioli), who deserves a good woman. Even Krull (Steve Jones) gets a little Love, literally.

All of this is almost cartoonish in how it works out, but Californication does tend to give its recurring players such goodbyes on a regular basis. It’s a shame that Hank and Karen end up in the same category, as they had always been better than that, but for the rest of the characters, that’s what we expect to happen.

I guess the only regret I’m left with, besides the obvious, is the lack of Becca in “Grace.” Her heart-to-heart doesn’t seem real, and we don’t see Hank have one last conversation with her at her wedding. She deserves her own piece of the finale, one last bonding chance with her dad, and without it, the episode feels like it’s missing something. “Grace” really should have been a full hour, half spent tying up this year’s arcs, and the other half serving the long-time cast, as Californication does a solid job with the former, and falls short with the latter.

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