It has to be said that Season 3 was nothing like the first two, and that's what made it work. Those of you that dug the callous and depraved nature of the first two seasons can avert their eyes now because this review will only praise the new and rebuke the old.
Season 3 opened with "Wish You Were Here" speaking of Hank's absent wife, but this was ironic because Hank was the happiest and least depraved-looking in this episode than the whole of the first twenty-four. It's true that the season opened where so many other episodes had before, in the bed of an unnamed and unkempt woman, but the pace and color of the show was entirely different. The humor moved from "hits off a dead hooker's ass" to plays on the "Live Strong" campaign. Not that Californication became good-humored or wholesome, just that it was no longer anguished and painful to watch.
Then we were given the gift of 'Dean Stacy Koons.' Koons, played by the ever browbeaten Peter Gallagher of The OCfame, was a hilarious addition to the cast. He and wife Felicia welcomed in the new surge of civilized story, but underneath their chappy accents and well-groomed exteriors was a wealth of intrigue that drove the entire season. Their daughter Chelsea even impacted the story by luring young Becca into the traps of lost virginity and drunkenness.
Episode 3, "Verities & Balderdash," was where the season really started to pick up. Hank was teaching at Koon's college and was already knocking boots with his grad-student TA Jill Robinson (Diane Farr). We also learned of the Dean's prior indiscretions and of Felicia's free pass for an affair with Hank. Things got even more interesting as Hank moved through the college halls and picked-up a few students along the way: Jackie (Eva Amurri) was a student-by-day and stripper-by-night and was a personal favorite. She was clever enough to see through Hank's sexual "issues," but she didn't dwell on them. She was always up for a good time and even brought some much needed loving to Hank's dear friend Charlie Runkle.
Runkle was another salvageable character from the first two seasons, but he owed this primarily to his new boss Sue Collini, played by an epic Kathleen Turner. Turner is famed for her continued roles with Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito in films such as Romancing the Stone and The War of the Roses and it's her sultry voice (she also voiced 'Jessica Rabbit' in the live action/animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) that brought Collini to life. She then breathed life back into Runkle through some of the naughtiest sexual encounters ever seen before 11pm.
Through Collini, Runkle got back in the entertainment management business and even romped around with Rick Springfield (of "Jessie's Girl" fame). Unfortunately, both Runkle and his wife Marcy romped with Rick. Again, Collini to the rescue—she helped Runkle man up and win back his wife through even more sexual debauchery. We can only hope that Turner will return for Season 4, but Runkle closed the season by packing up his office, so it's not likely we'll get to hear "Collini Out" in that raspy, unintelligible way ever again. Shame.
Overall, Season 3 was a triumph for the show. The best episode was definitely No. 8, "The Apartment," where the whole season smashed-together on Hank's front door step and the TA, the stripper, the Dean's wife and of course Hank's wife all came a' knockin. The Dean then deemed Hank "the girl whisperer" and the bed caught on fire in a sardonic and symbolic blaze. Hilarious. Period.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and in the final episode, Seasons 1 and 2 returned with the wrath of Mia Lewis (Madeline Zima). She brought with her all the stories of old: stolen novels, statutory rape, nagging wives, bloody fistfights, and strange ultra-sensory abstract dream-sequences where Hank ends up in handcuffs. The show abruptly ended with a shot of a drowning bottle, not provoking much hope for the future.
Season 4 will return in the fall of 2010 and we can only hope that the arduous and abstract Hank will be revived after the first episode so we can get back to what was good about the show: interesting characters rather than blood-soaked dreamscapes.
IGN RATINGS FOR CALIFORNICATION: SEASON 3
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