GOING TO CALIFORNIA isn’t really a forgotten TV show, as most people have never even heard of it. In fact, the creators have been able to recycle scenes and even characters for their follow up series, OCTOBER ROAD, without anyone even noticing.
Created by Scott Rosenberg, GOING TO CALIFORNIA is essentially a spin off of his film BEAUTIFUL GIRLS. The pilot episode, about a group of guys living in a small Massachusetts town (Bishop Flats, the same town from OCTOBER ROAD) could be seen as a deleted scene from the film.
The show opened with a great theme song by Old 97, "Going to California / Let's Get Lost Along The Way". This song, unfortunately, isn't on YouTube. And there are no clips from the show on Youtube.
Since Sony / Tri Star has yet to release the series on DVD (even though they had it listed as a potential release on one of their last surveys of possible releases), I decided to go episode by episode to give you an idea of what the show was like. I’ll refrain from spoilers.
EP 1 & 2 BLOWING FREE (aired 8-9-2001)
Kevin “Space” Laughlin (Sam Trammell) and Hank Ungalow (Brad William Henke, who plays one of the leads on OCTOBER ROAD) are longtime friends living in Bishop Flats, Massachusetts. When their friend Cassidy leaves town, they decide to head off and find him. Along the way, they meet up with Insect Bob (John Asher) who they manage to travel with on and off along the journey.
Once they get on the road, they stop off in Memphis where they meet a transvestite (Lawrence Taylor, yes the football player).
EP 3 TAKING CARE OF BISCUITS (8-16-01)
Still in Memphis, they go to Graceland, and meet a girl who claims to be Elivis’ daughter.
EP 4 I KNOW WHY THE CAGED RHINO SINGS (8-23-01)
The guys head to Arkansas where they meet “the boy”, a sort of carnival sideshow “freak” with skin that makes him look like a rhino.
What is most interesting about this episode is that the entire story about the boy (as well as the Insect Bob character) was also told in the Scott Rosenberg scripted film HIGHWAY (starring Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal). At the time this episode aired, the film was thought be resigned to a life on the shelf, so the entire story was reused for this episode. In 2002, the film was sent direct to DVD.
EP 5 RULES OF THE ROAD (8-30-01)
The guys each meet a girl, and we learn why Space is so into finding Cassidy. It also can be seen as a precursor to OCTOBER ROAD, about what happened with the Hannah character when Nick went away. In fact, the character Eddie Litekka appears in GOING TO CALIFORNIA (with a different character playing him).
EP 6 APOCALYPSE COW (9-6-01)
The guys get a job at a slaughterhouse to earn money. Featuring Jon Ashton (BEVERLY HILLS COP).
EP 7 THE BIG PADOODLE (9-20-01)
In Biloxi, where they think that Cassidy will be heading, they meet up with a rich family about to have a wedding. This episode features Jenny McCarthy (who would in real life marry Insect Bob, John Asher) and David Faustino (MARRIED WITH CHILDREN)
Also, note the date of this episode. The show was interrupted a week because of 9/11.
EP 8 FODDER FIGURES (9-27-01)
Somewhere in the South, they meet up with a gang of Civil War Reenactors. Lisa Edelstein plays a gambler who Space falls for.
EP 9 THE NAKED AND THE NUDE (10-4-01)
In this episode, they get to try out how much Showtime will let them get away with, as they visit a nudist camp. The two guys are forced to take sides between the old guard nudists, and the more attractive ones. A funny episode, even though one of the nudists is William Schilling (the principal from HEAD OF THE CLASS). I don't think anyone watching HEAD OF THE CLASS wanted to see him this way.
EP 10 A PIRATE LOOKS AT 15 TO 20 (10-11-01)
In Key West, they meet up with a group of smugglers, including Stacey Dash.
EP 11 HURRICANE AL (10-18-01)
Still in Florida, they head to a spa in Key Largo where they get caught in a Hurricane. This is probably the weakest episode of the series. Starring Poppy Montgomery.
EP 12 THIS YEAR’S MODEL (10-25-01)
The episode that really makes you wonder why this series isn’t on DVD. They head to Miami where Hank is recruited to be a model. The photographer is none other than Vince Vaughn in a very funny performances. Also in this episode is a pre-MY NAME IS EARL Jaime Pressly. I’m sure they could put Vaughn’s name on the DVD cover, as well as something about it being the inspiration for OCTOBER ROAD, and they would sell copies.
EP 13 OUR SUNSHINE STATE OF AFFAIRS (11-1-01)
The gang from Massachusetts come down to Miami, including Evan Jones (playing Ikey, the same character he plays on OCTOBER ROAD), Sean Gunn (who would go on to play Kirk on GILMORE GIRLS and now has a recurring character, Rooster the mohawked bartender, on OCTOBER ROAD), and Eddie Ebell (playing Eddie Litekka, same character from OCTOBER ROAD but a different actor).
EP 14 LILY OF THE FIELD (11-8-01)
While outside New Orleans, they stop to help a schoolteacher (Bridget Moynahan, who was dating Scott Rosenberg at the time) rebuild a school while battling school administration, and racism. There is one scene, where Moynahan gets drunk and sings songs from OLIVER outside her school superiors window, that was recreated in OCTOBER ROAD, where Nick gets drunk, and sings songs from OLIVER, outside the college administrators window.
At this point, the show was on hiatus for a few months before returning.
EP 15 A LITTLE HARD IN THE BIG EASY (1-10-02)
They meet a couple girls in a bar in New Orleans, and head out into the bayou for a voodoo ceremony.
EP 16 HOME GAMES (1-17-02)
Space realizes that his father once lived in the town they are passing through, so he decides to try to track him down. He meets his fathers wife (Rosanna Arquette). Much of the episode is made up of flashbacks to Space’s childhood, where many of the details of the character are used for the Tom Berenger father character in OCTOBER ROAD.
EP 17 WAITING FOR GORDO (1-24-02)
Running out of gas in East Texas, they pass time at an abandoned gas station. There, they meet up with immigrant smugglers.
EP 18 MIXED DOUBLES (1-31-02)
There are two stories in this episode. One storyline features some of the best writing in the series, the other, some of the most obvious.
In the main (and lesser) story, the guys meet up with two guys who are a bit too much like them (this is way overdone, and over explained).
In the other, back in Bishop Flats, a once popular girl (Lori Heuring), idolized by all the guys in town growing up, has to return home to live with her parents when she finds out her husband is gay. It touches on the themes of the nostalgia of building up people as the ideal, when they are never quite as perfect.
Some of the writing in this episode is so perfect. And there is a great use of Bread’s “Everything I Own”. But some of the stuff with the doubles is way too obvious.
EP 19 SEARCHING FOR EDDIE VAN HALEN (2-7-02)
More of the idealization of youth, where the guys go and find a friend (Jerry O’Connell), living in Austin, who they believe has become a big musician. Space meets a rock journalist. And Insect Bob spends time with a musician, a favorite of his mothers, who is now a drug dealer with ex-wives living all over town. Another episode with a lot of great writing, and a nice look at Austin (although I have to say some of the sex scenes in this episode are a bit too graphic).
EP 20 THE WEST TEXAS ROUND-UP AND OTHER ASSORTED MISDEMEANORS (2-14-02)
The guys stop for gas in a small Texas town. Space notices a girl at a gas station. After giving a variation of Michael Rappaport’s “Beautiful Girl” speech from BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, the police arrive. It seems that girl has turned up dead, and Space is a suspect because of how he was seen looking at her in the gas station. There is also a timely subplot of an Indian man arrested in the jail as a suspected terrorist. The always reliable Barry Corbin appears as a cop.
But the episode is stolen by Treat Williams, in arguably his finest, and creepiest performance, as another cop. He has a five minute scene in this episode that is one of the scariest performances I have seen. If more people watched the show, he would have won an Emmy.
That was the final episode. Airing on Showtime, and probably because of the locations, a rather difficult and expensive shoot, the show didn’t return.
It didn’t really need to because what they did was create one of the better series of the past decade. While it wasn’t always perfect, the characters were always enjoyable. Brad Henke has gone on to other work, including as I said OCTOBER ROAD. And why Sam Trammel didn’t have a bigger career boost from this, and why he isn’t on OCTOBER ROAD, I don’t know. I would have predicted big things from him. He has done a lot of TV, and had a supporting role in ALIEN VS PREDATOR, but he deserves more. He would have been perfect in the lead of OCTOBER ROAD (NOTE: This was written before Trammel began starring as Sam the bartender on TRUE LOVE, a great role for him).
Scott Rosenberg’s writing has a sort of David Mamet / Aaron Sorkin feel. It has an original cadence, and feel, that while not exactly the most natural, it is always fun to listen to. And while you might be able to point out the similarities between this show and his other work, and use that to criticize him, if anything to me that makes it even more interesting. Just like how writers often rework short stories to feature length, he likes the characters enough to reuse them, to get the situations the way he wants them, where they work the best.
If anyone from Sony is out there, this show needs a DVD release. Please don’t forget it.