Californication's Note-perfect Becca
Madeleine Martin reflects on a season of Californication that saw her character, Becca Moody, play an essential part in Hank’s slow transition to adulthood.
Cast: David Duchovny, Natasha McElhone, Pamela Adlon, Madeleine Martin, Madeline Zima, and Evan Handler
US Release date: 2009-08-28
When one thinks of the hit Showtime show Californication, David Duchovny and his limitless libido spring immediately to mind. It can’t be helped. He is, after all, the star, executive producer, and occasional series director. He has leapt into the role with both feet (even if his absence is annoyingly evident in the two-disc set’s special features). His image conveys a wild nature with a kind soul, and somewhere within lays a good parent, as well.
In the show’s inaugural season, Duchovny’s castmates were there mainly as enjoyable necessities to help move Hank’s romantic life forward. It was all about Karen and Hank. Would they get back together? What would happen if she found out about Hank’s accidental fling with Karen’s (Natasha McElhone) possible daughter-in-law Mia (Madeline Zima)? Does Marcy’s (Pamela Adlon) opinion hold any sway over Karen’s decision to marry Bill? Where does daughter Becca factor into the couple’s decision-making, if at all? Sure, there were some solid side stories to help develop the supporting players, but none of them were entrusted with the dramatic weight of the show like Hank/Duchovny.
For season two, however, show creator and lead writer Tom Kapinos cleverly decided to progress his central character outside the arena of romantic love. But how? Who could sway, shake, or maybe even shatter Hank’s preconceived proclivities towards sex, drugs, and alcohol? His daughter Becca, of course, played note-perfect by the young and charming Madeleine Martin, whom I spoke with by phone.
"It’s kind of ironic I’m playing an L.A. teenager who loves L.A. and she doesn’t want to move to New York," Martin said. "Really, it’s sort of the opposite. I’m very much a New York teenager and I would never want to move to L.A. I had a line in season two where I had to say, ‘I hate New York’, and it was really hard for me to even say it."
After the fairy tale finale in season one, it would have been easy (and conventional) for Kapinos to rely on the relationship between Hank and Karen instead of Hank and Becca to provide all the drama throughout season two. In fact, after watching the first few episodes, it appeared that’s exactly where the arc was heading.
Hank and Karen are living together, but in fear instead of bliss. Karen openly wonders when the couple will fuck it up, while Hank seems to be coasting along as many men do when they become prematurely comfortable. Hank makes mistakes. The fights escalate. The season very easily could have gone in reverse order of last season – Hank slowly loses Karen instead of Hank wins her back.
Kapinos wisely sidesteps that lazy landmine and digs back into the development of Hank’s psyche before we even reach the season’s halfway point (it only took four episodes, which is all the more impressive considering it’s only a 12-episode season). Without giving away too many details, the focus shifts to Hank’s mental health. No, he’s not committed to some sort of asylum a la House. He just has to learn how to deal with his relationships in more productive ways than drinking all day and sleeping with anyone who does or can mutter those four magic words – I love your book.
While he still does both, he learned from his mistakes a year ago and grows tired of his own immature behavior rather quickly. He’s inadvertently helped along the way by a wild (but sweet) record producer named Lew Ashby, but Becca stands alone as the show’s true moral compass.
This is never more evident than during a heated confrontation between father and daughter when Becca has to tell Hank it’s time for him to grow up.
"Normally, I substitute my own experiences for experiences I’m asked to portray," Martin said. "For that scene, I tried to think of something sad, like my dog dying. That doesn’t work as well as it used to, but those lines are quite easy with David [Duchovny]. He really helps with those scenes."
But Duchovny is not always as supportive of his fellow thespians mid-scene.
"Sometimes he tries to make me laugh [during a scene]," she said. "He actually played a lot of pranks on the set this season. There’s one scene where Hank, Karen and Becca are driving up in the Porsche and right before I said my line, [Duchovny] used an application on his iPhone called iFart that made an awful farting noise. He used it quite a lot this season."
That high level of fun Martin spoke of is very apparent during the episodes. Unlike season one, which was more of a dark comedy with glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel, season two keeps the jokes and most of the material fairly amiable. Everyone seems a little looser and a little more comfortable in their role, especially the youngest Moody (a more fitting last name I have yet to encounter for any family, real or imagined).
Season two is a big deal for Becca. Not only does she steer her dad straight, but she also gets her first boyfriend in one of the season’s most humorous twists.
"I was excited because it was someone my age on the show. The casting director laid out all the headshots of boys who were auditioning and I picked out a couple favorites. I did watch the audition tape for the boy they ended up choosing (Ezra Miller), though."
Even if you think you can imagine Hank’s reaction to his daughter’s new beau, you still need to see Duchovny’s take on the disapproving father role. Not only are the standard, done-to-death situations still uproariously funny, but the writers help him take it to the next level by swapping the father/would-be step-son dynamic after Hank makes an egregious error involving young Damien. Luckily, despite Martin’s worries, Duchovny never carried over any animosity towards his young coworkers after either of them were called on to scold the adult during a few scenes.
"I really liked the first two seasons because we had a lot of fun with the nice father/daughter relationship," Martin said. "I was a little worried season three would affect my off screen relationship with David. But it didn’t."
While some may find the innocent nature of the previous comment naïve, it’s really quite refreshing to speak to a young Hollywood actress whose parents still won’t let her watch all of her own show. "I listen to and watch about seventy percent of the show now. The rest I’ll get to watch maybe when I’m eighteen. [through the adult situations]."
Hopefully, Ms. Martin will still be able to watch Californication in two years when she becomes a legal adult and thus permitted to watch the program without censorship. The show has been picked up for a third season (which begins on September 28), and Martin was more than willing to provide a few spoilers.
First off, Duchovny begins the third season in front of and behind the camera, as he did at the start of season two. Martin said Duchovny shot some extra footage of Hank and Becca dancing on the beach to show what the family did all summer in L.A., but she hopes the show will eventually change locales. "I’m hoping in season four the show goes to New York or Becca runs away or something. I think it would be fun for the show."
Becca would have no problem leaving the west coast now because, according to Martin, she and Damien have already broken up before the start of season three. Now, she has a new friend. "I have a best friend. A girl," Martin said, "That was fun because she’s an accomplice in some very crazy adventures which were fun to play."
But it’s not all fun and games for this growing young woman. The teenage years are never easy for children, and Becca’s discussions with her father turn a bit darker.
"Hank and Becca are very similar in temperament. They both tend to keep things locked up until there’s a sort of explosion. In season three, there is an explosion between the two of them. There are actually quite a lot of heated arguments, but whenever Beccas says ‘I hate you,’ she’s actually screaming out for attention because she loves Hank."
These tantalizing tidbits are all we have to go on before diving into season three in September because season two’s extras are far too scare to generate any anticipatory buzz. There are a few commentary tracks by Pamela Adlon, who plays Marcy, as well as interviews with Duchovny, McElhone, Adlon, Zima, and Handler.
There's also a short featurette titled Marcie’s Waxing Salon, but it’s only three-minutes long and only has a few brief instances of amusing Adlon-inspired humor. There are also some sneak peeks at other Showtime programs, but nothing to whet the appetites of Californication fans.
However, the news provided by Martin makes season three sound like there are plenty more trials and tribulations for the man himself – Hank Moody. Even though Becca’s part is elevated to the point of being considered an accomplished cohort in Hank’s schemes, Californication is still very much about its central character and his central goal.
In season one, he tried to win back the love of his life. In season two, he tried to outgrow his bad habits and live well for his daughter. What will season three hold for Hank? We will have to wait, ever so anxiously, and see.