Californication and House of Lies: Recap of "Boys & Girls" and "Microphallus"

January 24, 2012

I didn’t initially think I’d want to do this, since television show reviews seem to be a quick hit grab in many a site, and they offer content that seems to be just a rehash of something I probably have already seen myself.

Notwithstanding, after watching the third episodes of both Californication and House of Lies, I couldn’t help thinking about the article I initially wrote after watching the respective season premieres.

In case you you need a recap, I observed that these two shows share a very similar premise—that of a tragic alpha-male who is flawed, yet fragile. However, I wondered if the thematic overlap would allow me to enjoy either of these two shows.

Episode three of Californication introduced a sort of Lancelot/Guinevere situation for Hank and Calvin’s leading lady. Hank was placed in a somewhat unbelievable situation of having to entertain Calvin’s girl (played seductively by Meagan Good), with the threat of being caught involving an angry black man and a samurai sword.

The plot device wasn’t too believable, but it works for this series, as it always has.  Albeit, nowadays, we see a Hank that is less of a seducer and more of the victim, which is interesting in this case.

Still, the more charming parts of the show, as I mentioned last time, are his interactions with his daughter. In this episode, her boyfriend dumps her after confessing that he’s been sleeping around, and Hank is able to see that Becca’s going through the same thing that his x-lover Karen went through for so many years.

Enter the catharsis. The epiphanies. The self-actualization. And the setup for whatever happens to be the next failing. Hook’s in the cheek.

House of Lies, in its own corner, decided to start the show with as much pathos as possible by introducing us to Marty Kaan’s dead mother through a dream sequence. It is the anniversary of her death, we are told. (It’s been previously mentioned that she committed suicide, I believe.)

The ending of the show (sorry for skipping) is a fitting bookend. One where we see a frustrated and clearly traumatized Marty driving a stolen vehicle in high gear apparently with no inhibition. Tragic. Cathartic. Somewhat expected.

Those are the things I sort of liked.

Here’s some of the things that didn’t quite work for me. Both shows seem intent on introducing very implausible situations that are bizarre and mostly unnecessary.

For example, in Californication, the show starts with a comedic, but sad scene showing us that Runkle is lonely and a bit sad that his best friend Hank is ready to move back to New York.

This setup, however, re-introduces the way-too-attractive-to-be-a-nanny girl we met last week. The next thing you know, Runkle turns overtly psycho-sexual and she is… offended, but not repulsed. Okay, I understand the need to bring some life into Runkle’s character now that he’s no longer with Marcy, but this was just odd.

Similarly, House of Lies has Marty and Jeannie going over to a client’s house where the client has some sort of foot fetish that somehow ends up going well with Jeannie, while Marty plays dirty with the client’s wife. It sounds much better in text. Seeing it was just bizarre. Perhaps a bit funny, but way too far out.

The difficulty that these shows will have is that there is such a huge imbalance in what they are trying to portray. They aren’t “dark comedies.” They are sometimes “dark” and they are sometimes “comedies,” but these elements are oil and water. Complete heterogeneous mixtures.

If I am to be concerned about Marty Kaan as a character who is still dealing with the death of his mother, who is unsure about how to raise his son, and whose job is on the line because he’s failed to make a meaningful relationship with his boss–how am I supposed to care if the larger part of the episode involves him playing good cop/bad cop with a client’s crazy “black dick” loving wife?

In this sense, I think Californication does a slight bit better. It’s still hard to control the suspension of disbelief when Hank is in some weird club that I assume exists somewhere in LA where naked girls dance and milk is poured over them (I think that’s what was happening in one scene). And then Hank is giving a tittie twister to some guy and walking away from the club with the aforementioned beautiful, yet forbidden fruit.

Couple that with the aforementioned Runkle and the nanny incident, and it seems like the the show is trying a bit too hard to stay risque.

This isn’t entirely out of form, though.

The empathetic scenes between Hank and Becca are not too drastically different in tone than the more bizarre elements, and it all seems to work within the lingo that the show has created for itself in all the previous seasons.

Maybe I’m being more forgiving of Californication because of the familiarity and comfort I have in the characters and the mood it has brought over the years, and I find myself (still) enjoying the series.

House of Lies is still funny, even though it behaves like it’s still trying to find its way. The scenes where Marty stops time and talks to the camera are hit or miss for me, and seem a bit more gimmicky (as in, trying hard to be unique) than necessary.

But, I have been drawn in by the darker story behind it all involving the death of Marty’s other and how he copes with that, as well as the relationship with his boss in lieu of the impending buyout by Norbert’s firm.

Well, I think I’ve gone on with this for far too long. I’m not sure if I’ll do one of these after every episode (I don’t always catch these on the night of–sometimes I like to catch a few episodes all at once), but I’m definitely curious to see where Hank and Marty go from here.

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