TV Review: Californication (2007-2014)

Original Run: August 13th, 2007 – June 29th, 2014
Created by: Tom Kapinos
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Tree Adams, Tyler Bates
Cast: David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone, Madeleine Martin, Evan Handler, Pamela Adlon, Madeline Zima, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jason Beghe, Bill Lewis, Judy Greer, Tim Minchin, Mädchen Amick, Ezra Miller, Justine Bateman, Peter Gallagher, Kathleen Turner, James Frain, Carla Gugino, Rob Lowe, Zoë Kravitz, Meagan Good, Rza, Maggie Grace, Michael Imperioli, Heather Graham

Totally Commercial Films, Aggressive Mediocrity, Twilight Time Films, And Then…, Showtime, 84 Episodes, 29 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I heard a lot of good things while Californication was on the air. I held off on checking it out until it was over, recently binge watching it on Netflix.

The story follows novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) as he tries to win back his long time baby mama Karen (Natascha McElhone) and balance a life of sex addiction, drugs, booze and his daughter (Madeleine Martin). Also, early in the series, he gets caught up in having sex with the underage daughter (Madeline Zima) of his baby mama’s new fiance. The show is accented by Hank’s manager and best friend, Charlie (Evan Handler) and his wife, Marcy (Pamela Adlon).

The show starts out really strong and each season is actually pretty good before it runs off the rails in the final season of its seven season run.

Duchovny is lovable as the childish and womanizing novelist but ultimately, he constantly does questionable things and always finds himself in trouble or making situations much worse. Sometimes, it is just the result of unforeseen circumstances but typically it is the result of a myriad of bad or careless decisions.

The constant back and forth between Hank and Karen is enjoyable for the first few seasons but it eventually grows tiresome about midway through the series’ run. Maybe that is because I binge watched it and didn’t see their relationship grow, evolve and fall apart over the course of several years time.

Hank’s daughter started out as a decent enough character but after a season or two, she becomes completely unlikable and doesn’t recognize that her father isn’t really all that bad and that despite his pitfalls has genuinely tried to put her first.

The best overall story during the run of the show was the up and down relationship of secondary characters Charlie and Marcy. They go through more real world problems and drama than Hank and Karen do and in the end, they reconnect and find each other, ending off better than they ever were throughout their tumultuous relationship. And Stu, who becomes Marcy’s husband over a season or two, was hysterical. The love triangle between Charlie, Marcy and Stu was the highlight of this entire show. And honestly, this relationship makes Hank and Karen’s look like bullshit high school level drama.

By the time I got to the end, I really didn’t care about where Hank and Karen ended up because based off of their track record, I knew it had the possibility to go in the opposite direction five minutes after the final credits rolled.

The show was pretty solid for most of its run but the final goodbye was long overdue by the time I got to the end.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Shameless, Weeds, Entourage and Aquarius.

TV Review: Gotham (2014-2019)

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – current
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan, Richard Kind, Natalie Alyn Lind, Peyton List, Crystal Reed

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.