Californication: “…the truth is what you need to finish this song…”

In Love Song, the sixth episosde of Californication‘s fifth season, creator and showrunner Tom Kapinos wrote a soulful, wistful and melancholic look at missed opportunities, love and authenticity.

Samurai Apocalypse (portrayed with insane style and panache by RZA) ordered his Santa Monica Cop screenwriter Hank Moody to write lyrics for budding songstress Kali. As Hank forced Kali to delve deeper into her memories, he got lost in his own, giving us black-and-white flashbacks to the moment when Hank and Karen first decided to stay in L.A.

(Whenever Kapinos shows us Hank and Karen’s past, he writes scuffed and dirty emotional riffs that move you. These episodes are rock-n-roll ballads, bluesy guitar solos, romantic, whiskey-soaked tales of all that could have been, and all that might yet be, if no one f**ks it up.)

As Hank re-lived this moment in time, while drawing lyrical inspiration from Kali’s increasingly painful memories, the theme became abundantly clear:

What makes your writing truly yours, what makes it really sing… is you.

Your soul. Your authenticity. Your truth. Nothing less than the absolute revelation of what you really, truly, need and want. Getting to the truth of who you are and why you do what you do. What drives you, what do you dream of? What makes you want those things, and what will you do — and give up — to get them?

Find the truth about who the f**k you are and how you fit into this world. Because you do fit into this world, even if you don’t know how yet. Some people know right away. Some take thirty years, some fifty or more. It’s OK. Your life is all about you, m***erf***er. Act accordingly.

Nothing you write will be good until you inject yourself into it. It’s what Dave Grohl talked about at the Grammys when he said music isn’t what happens inside a computer. He wasn’t ranting against technology itself, against any of the tools of making music; he was ranting against soulless music, which can just as easily be made with a guitar as an iPad. And the flip side is true: soul will always come through, must always come through, however you make your art.

Consider two extraordinary and seminal albums: The White Stripes’ Elephant, and Massive Attack’s 100th Window. The first made only on equipment dated pre-1963 (it’s a Jack White thing), the second made on laptops and in digital worlds, with songs and textures that couldn’t exist before 2003.

Both have beauty and soul, in different ways: Elephant is rough, heavy, pounding and wild, while 100th Window is hypnotic, evocative and dreamlike. Both are true and truthful, and it doesn’t matter how they were recorded or how we listen to them: the souls of the people who created them shine through, make them real; making them connect.

Whether you write poems, stories, novels, songs, or scripts, you need to make them yours, write them your way. Quentin Tarantino kept getting told that True Romance wasn’t written properly, that this wasn’t how scripts are done. He said, f**k you, because this is me and this is mine. Then he made Reservoir Dogs, and Tony Scott shot True Romance, and then came Pulp Fiction. Tarantino-esque became its own literary style and took over pop culture. All iconic & unique writers do.

Ultimately, being a writer, being any kind of artist, is all about you being authentic. That will shine brightly; the rest will follow.

So find your truth and finish your song.

Then let the world hear it.

SouthLAnd: heart of darkness

Six episodes in, SouthLAnd isn’t letting up the pace: it’s only picking up speed.

Cop Or Not began with Lydia and Josie investigating a gruesome celebrity murder, while Cooper and Sherman and seemingly half the LAPD were forced to stand guard outside on a street full of celebrity addresses, warding off the paparazzi.

Cheo Hodari Coker delivered some of his finest writing in these scenes. He channeled his inner Tarantino by having the suspect, an actor, tell the detectives that he was starring in a Tony Scott remake of Shogun Assassin, and was being trained by Sonny Chiba. As a devoted believer in the fact that True Romance is the greatest movie ever made, I couldn’t help but love this. Sonny Chiba and Snoop Dogg references aside, this storyline was brutal, laying bare the dark glitz of Los Angeles, and showing us the reality of being a cop in the capital city of Celebrity. Cop Or Not was also notable for addressing the issue of Cooper’s sexuality for the first time since he came out to Ben: it did so in the subtlest way possible, just a brief shot of Cooper getting out of bed, leaving the man he’d spent the night with. The scene followed the SouthLAnd creed: no more, no less than necessary.

It was a strong, fast-moving episode. It hit the streets and ran hard, like Sammy in pursuit of his revenge.

“I’m back, m*therf*cker.”

There can be no doubt: this was Sammy’s episode, just as this is turning out to be Shawn Hatosy’s season.

From the early scene where Nate’s kid asks Sammy, “are you gonna get killed like my dad?”, it was clear that Cop Or Not was heading right into Sammy’s heart of darkness. As Sammy faced up to hitting the streets for the first time in six weeks in order to get the word out that he was back, we saw the terrible forces fighting inside him, thanks to Hatosy’s raw, De Niro-like stillness masking the struggle and conflict within. Or, as his ride-along partner put it, “you got that Sean Penn, crazy white boy thing going for you.”

When Sammy found out that he was the father of Tammi’s baby (“I’m the dad”), it was a gut-wrenchingly simple few moments that floored the viewer. You could feel the immensity of the emotions (finally knowing he was the father, knowing Nate wasn’t there to share the news). The sheer impact of this scene was thanks to the subtle artistry of three men: a typically tight and raw script from Coker, minimal, edgy direction from J.Michael Muro, and, of course, Shawn Hatosy’s acting: emotions roiling up from within, rippling across the surface as he struggled to contain them. Too much for one man; too much for the viewer.

By the time Sammy returned to the scene of Nate’s death, he couldn’t hold it together, and neither could we. When Sammy described the things Nate had taught him, as gangsters appeared on all sides, we felt the beauty and sadness of the things he was saying fighting against the dangerous volatility building fast. Sammy is a bad-ass detective, legendary on the force, but he was coming apart, coming undone; the forces of loss were breaking him. As he faced off against Nate’s killer, cops pulling up on all sides, the emotion overflowed. It was raw in the way that only SouthLAnd can be. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere,” Sammy promised the killer. We can only hope that’s true of Sammy, and of the show itself.

Californication Season 4: “It’s getting dark, too dark to see…”

“My heart was beating outside my chest… It’s been almost too much to bear.”

Written by Tom Kapinos and directed by David Duchovny, Suicide Solution was abundantly soulful, transcendently raw and eerily beautiful.

It’s fair to say this episode was Duchovny’s finest moment yet in the series. From Becca’s lonely guitar playing, through Hank’s heartbreaking realization (beautifully, subtly played by Duchovny) that for now at least, he has lost her, to the extraordinary power of its conclusion, when the scuffed poetry of Hank’s words to Becca was overlaid with hypnotic, melancholy dream-imagery, as Hank’s self-medication finally took him down, the show reached a new level. “It’s getting dark, too dark to see,” Hank said in voice over as the waves crashed over him, swallowing him whole.

With this season, the show as a whole is delivering on everything it has promised in the previous three seasons, and more. It’s better at everything now. Executive producer and creator Tom Kapinos is flexing new dramatic muscles, and the show has come back as though it spent the hiatus working out: it’s leaner, stronger, tougher, and its core twin strengths (the genuine love of Hank for his family, and the don’t give a f**kness of it all) are back in full effect, but this time used more precisely and to more subtle, devastating effect.

This season is all sinew, muscles and veins, exposed and raw. It’s all about facing the music in the worst possible way. It’s about staring into the eyes of your daughter who hates you. A life in painful shards, slicing the skin. Season Four of Californication is drawing blood. It’s harsh, unforgiving. And still it’s damn funny. Whether it’s Hank getting unexpected relief from Marcy, or Rob Lowe channeling Brad Pitt’s Floyd and Gary Oldman’s Drexl from True Romance to play Eddie Nero, the crazy A-lister who wants to play Hank in the movie of his book, the show jabs humor with southpaw precision. It’s great to see the show full throttle like this. Its one liners are sharper, its gonzo situations more outrageous. It’s pulled off one of the most difficult tricks in TV: treating darkness and humor just the same, combining them into one scathing, blistering, pain-fuelled but hilarious blend that charms, horrifies, moves and makes you laugh, hard.

There were moments in season three when the show located itself – charmingly to be sure – in the quirkier areas of its world. The drama of it all was traded down in favor of priceless humor. This was a good trade, for a time, but ultimately Kapinos brought the show to the darker place it needed to be, where every seed Hank has sown is reaped.

Throughout the first three seasons, Hank played at self-loathing, played at being the one everyone hated, knowing, or at least hoping, all along that it wasn’t quite true. But now, it’s real, and Duchovny is giving a virtuosic rendering of a man realizing his life really is disintegrating, and flashing that smile or being rogueishly adorable means nothing anymore to those whose hearts he has truly broken. It’s a tough, excruciating experience and lesson: watching Hank learn it is heroically compelling.

Californication is at the top of its game, and getting better.


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