Hogan's Alley

Monday, June 25, 2007

What To Make Of "John From Cincinnati"

First a confession. I was a huge fan of "Deadwood". News of that show's premature demise so that HBO and "Deadwood" producer/writer David Milch (pictured at left) could replace it with a new Milch production has predisposed me to hate the new show. It may very well be that stories about HBO's urgent desire to bring "John From Cincinnati" to its subscribers were cover for "creative differences" behind the scenes or lower than hoped for ratings for "Deadwood". Whatever the case, I have to acknowledge a bias against "John" before I even saw a frame of it.

Thus it has been hard to leap into an opinion about the show and I have waited until the third episode to write about my initial impressions in order to be fair to the show and its creators. It must also be said that the nature of the show itself has not been helpful.

Milch seems to be going for a kind of magical realism with this show. Although it is ostensibly about the three generations of a family of surfing royalty, their trial and tribulations, friends, hangers on and dysfunctions, it really wants to take us to an entirely other place.

In the pilot episode we are introduced to the title character, John Monad. He is from someplace else. The guy who finds him settles on Cincinnati as as likely a place and any. Although he apparently appears crossing the Mexican border into suburban California, he is clearly not of our planet. He knows nothing, except that "The end is near"and his repetitions of what others say. He has nothing, except that which is desired by others and appears miraculously from his pockets. By the third episode John is helping others "see God" and both a parrot and the young scion of the surfing Yost family have been brought back from the dead or the virtually death of machine sustained neurological flat lining.

John Monad. The John seems to clearly relate to another John (the Baptist) who proclaimed and preceded the coming of Jesus. Is Monad some obscure scrambled reference to Revelation Theology? Does John Monad proclaim the Second Coming? Is David Milch about to attempt a large scale lesson to viewers of the coming of the Revelation and the End of Days? Miracles are surely afoot. The oldest Yost levitates. His son seems to have been mysteriously cured of his heroin addiction. And the youngest Yost has literally been resurrected.

As episode three ends we are clearly moving into peculiar territory. The characters have only been sketched, not fully drawn in any way. They are archetypes, and weird ones at that. The drug dealer who is concerned about the wellbeing of the Yost family while listening to schlock semi-operatic vocals. The ex-cop who raised parrots. The nerdy attorney who is devoted to surfing and the surfing culture. So it is that the mystery of John, who and what he is and what paranormal events he has and is unleashing is clearly at the center of the show. The question is, will we care?

For me, the answer is yes...so far. As the miracles of the show pour forth it seems to be headed quickly for something far beyond the standard Southern California family surf saga it seems to be on the surface. The saga doesn't interest me. But I am interested enough in the imagination of David Milch to see where he is taking us. It is also pleasant to see so many actors from my beloved "Deadwood" figuratively resurrected in this show.

So any final verdict will have to be put on hold for now. Only the ripening of the series will reveal if the story Milch wants to tell is of interest. In the interim he has my attention and we know we will be treated to Ed O'Neill's character, ex-cop Bill Jacks and others, speak the magnificent Milchspeak that we have come to enjoy as it previously tripped from the tongues of Andy Sipowitz and Al Swearengen.