“Californication,” the raunchy comedy on Showtime about the sexual and relationship misadventures of novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny), recently ended its fifth season and it will probably be the last for me as a viewer. I blame Charlie Runkle. He’s forced me to call it quits on a show I used to really enjoy. Charlie is Hank’s best friend and agent. His defining characteristics are his loyalty to Hank and his crazy sexual exploits.
In the early days of the show, Charlie’s adventures in the bedroom (or more often than not, anywhere but the bedroom) were funny in a cringe worthy sort of way. Insecure but likeable, he tried to please his wife but mostly fell short. This left him open to temptations and eventually a divorce. Single man Charlie then spent a season working toward the goal of sleeping with 100 women—this is a show called “Californication” after all—and yet, I can’t find the funny in Charlie or his fornicating like I used to. It’s all become a bit too predictable. I know that every time Charlie is in a scene with a woman that woman will end up offering herself to him in numerous and often, outrageous ways.
Charlie’s repetitive storyline has lead me to reassess my feelings for the show. To be completely fair, it’s also probable that I’ve grown tired of the overall narrative. The problem is no one seems to change but Charlie is a particularly blatant example. Some might argue that if a sitcom character is funny they don’t need to change because their role is to simply be funny. I think we should demand more.
Certainly, Charlie is meant to be comic relief within a comedy and Evan Handler is a talented actor who plays the character with gusto. But even the comic relief needs to occasionally re-work the act to keep it fresh and interesting. It’s not that Charlie doesn’t reflect on the consequences of his actions. It’s that he doesn’t learn from them. Arguably, this is why his character can be humorous and tragic but the always expected set-ups make it hard to see him as anything but two dimensional. He never learns, over and over again.
This is not to suggest that Charlie or his fellow sitcom characters need to be continually surprising but they do need to occasionally stray from the usual. If Charlie Runkle actually walked away from at least one of his you-can-see-it-coming-a-mile-away dalliances, I would take notice and maybe even like him a little more for it.
So how much change is needed to maintain a character’s balance between cozy sameness and sit up and take notice difference? I think the answer is: Not so much change that you miss the character you love but enough to make you love them even more. It’s about achieving a three-dimensional representation that injects a small dose of reality into the absurd. It’s not an easy balance but one without the other falls flat.
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