The art of the road trip is the heart of Showtime’s “Going to California.” Buoyed by two solid leads and a “Route 66”-ish concept, series is a real find despite a litter of over-the-top, episodic moments. As a slight slice of life, it’s a nice complement to the cabler’s “Leap Years,” so now it’s a matter of getting the word out. Maybe this will help: NFL vet Lawrence Taylor shows up as a cross-dresser named Fighting Iris.
First developed at the WB, show’s premise is simple enough: Two college grads bored with their New England lives set out for the West Coast. But instead of focusing on the destination, “Going to California” targets the journey. The idea is questionable — if this show pulls in the ratings, will its co-stars be in their 1966 Buick Wildcat forever? — but thanks to the thesps’ extreme likeability, skein’s flaws are easy to overlook. The characters are not whiners, nor are they twentysomethings who talk nonstop about pop culture; they’re just two guys who would rather see the world than read about it.
Kevin “Space” Lauglin (Sam Trammell) and Hank Ungalow (Brad Henke) are part of a tight group of friends in working-class Bishop Flats, Mass. Space is the de facto leader; Hank is the dim, oafish mechanic who talks about girls because he can’t seem to get any.
After a few lackluster scenes, things get going when their pal Eddie, in a drunken flash of rebelliousness, announces he’s leaving his humdrum life and heading for California.
Space and Hank agree to help prep for the voyage, only to learn on departure day that Eddie is backing out. Still excited, despite the hesitation of Space’s gal, Claire (Audrey Marie Anderson), the two justify their pilgrimage further by claiming to search for Cassidy (Frank Sallo), a buddy who disappeared after being dumped by high-maintenance Lisa B. (Lindsay Sloane).
Initial leg takes the duo to Memphis, Tenn., where they meet up with fight-happy transvestite Iris, weasely harmonica enthusiast Jack (Oliver Macready) and hyperactive, egg-loving Insect Bob (John Asher), three fringe weirdos more bizarre than anyone most travelers would ever meet within one day’s span.
And that’s the only problematic part of “Going to California.” Director Peter Howitt and exec producer-writer Scott Rosenberg (“Beautiful Girls,” “Con Air”), upon whose life this is loosely based, offer up a breezy construction, good pacing and delightful dialogue, but the out-there cast of characters is much too odd to accept. Their exclusion wouldn’t necessarily help — a travelogue narrative needs strange people to break up the boredom — but their constant presence makes the project feel overtly unrealistic in several scenes.
Character development aside, Taylor, who’s around only for the debut, is surprisingly effective — his sweet take on a troubled soul is a real treat. As for the topliners, Trammell is sound as the pretty boy scared of the future, while Henke mixes little-boy enthusiasm with a comical aloofness that certainly would be welcome on any long excursion.
Tech credits are pro, with different locations sure to contribute strong visual elements throughout the run.