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Californication

Meagan Good (pictured above) is featured prominently in these early episodes of the new season of Californication and her presence solicits certain questions as to the direction of the series. On the surface she provides eye candy akin to many of the past guest features in this series – Carla Gugino and Addison Timlin made appearances just last season. But this season, Good’s accompanied by a plot line that invokes the main protagonist’s understanding of Black people or lack thereof.

For the most part, it’s a familiar plot: There’s a career opportunity on the line and Hank’s a bit reluctant to accept; whether because of artistic integrity or personal conflict or simply a predisposition to being as difficult as Showtime needs him to be. Either way Hank Moody doesn’t want to write (read: do) what is expected of him and this leads to conflict – the punch to the face kind and the socio-metaphysical identity crisis sort. Par far course with the show.

What’s different this season is not that the main characters have to acknowledge race – when Michael Ealy was making the sex with Moody’s baby’s mother we were reminded often that he was black, just as when Hank and his best friend Charlie Runkle say “nigga” we’re forcibly reminded that they’re not – the difference now is that the show seems to be flirting with the notion of doing more, perhaps being more than just a pale image of Bukowski’s magnum opus Women, with solid laughs and the once-improbable Agent Mulder as the face.

The series, Californication is still very much like the novel, Women, in that despite how it may seem, these two works are unabashedly about masculinity, men. Not LA life. Not being a writer. Not women. Not gender relations, adulthood, parenting, or sex. But men, and everything else only inasmuch it relates to masculinity. Hank Moody like David Duchovny like Chinaski like Buckowski exists comfortably in the space of masculinity etched out by the successes of feminism and the rise of more developed and varying roles for women in society. The novelty of all this is that he actively keeps fucking them, (and fucking with society, man.) He has sex with lawyers and actresses and teachers and students and wives and mothers and daughters. And through living this kind of superficial man’s fantasy, we’re exposed to what real men experience and endure: being a father, being in love, dealing with work, being a friend, failing – like a man.

But back to Ms. Good. Meagan Good is the type of actress you wish read more bell hooks when you see the sort of roles she subsists on but somehow you suspect that she’s intimately familiar with the tragedies of Toni Morrison with how she carries herself on screen, enigmatically seductive. She’s a black woman and plays them on television without hesitation. What she does for Californication is force a show that’s been about men to be more explicitly about white men. Race like the word “nigga” has been the punchline to a joke for Hank Moody and company since the series premiere in August 2007. Now in season 5, the show-runners want to see where this can go. Bukowski didn’t. He stayed tucked away in Los Angeles until his death in 1994, a time where race relations were boiling over most vehemently but a locale where ignoring it is most persistent, and he remained a curmudgeonly old white man until the end, a literary Archie Bunker. What gives Hank Moody the right to live in 2012, compliment a sexy Black woman on the fullness of her lips, have sincere conversations with brothas about their contrasting world views, and still maintain the mystique of a brash, intellectual non-conformist drunkard? It’s a tall older surely for a show past this far into its run. The RZA’s brick-like performance alone would leave anyone a bit skeptical.