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Wipeout: "John From Cincinnati" Leaves Me Hanging

Wow. I had read the script for John From Cincinnati last fall so knew what to expect but even I couldn't have anticipated the bloated, pretentious mess that ended up on screen.

From the fertile mind of David Milch (Deadwood), comes this metaphysical surfing series about a network of burn-outs, losers, and a crumbling family in a small, beachside town beside by illegal aliens (perhaps of the garden variety and the extraterrestrial kind).

Launching on the back of the final episode of The Sopranos (which I watched, despite giving up on the show a few seasons back), John From Cincinnati certainly won't be the program to redefine HBO as The Sopranos did all those years ago. Instead, it's a more turgid, modern-day version of the network's own Carnivale, which (though I was a fan) did nothing to engender the network to the viewers.

John From Cincinnati is meant to be a convergence of genres: surf movies of the 1960s, apocalyptic visions, and the family drama. Into this kitchen sink drama comes the titular John Monad (Austin Nichols), a cipher who is early on called "a babe in the woods." Is he a prophet, come to warn the town about the end times? An idiot savant who can effortlessly surf like a champion? A rich brat with amnesia and, er, learning difficulties? We're not entirely sure. But he comes into the Yost family's lives just as they themselves are experiencing certain miracles: pater familias Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood) finds himself levitating a few inches off the ground after a morning surf; family friend Bill (Ed O'Neill) discovers his beloved dead bird come back to life. Are these signs and wonders or portents of things to come? Is it truly Judgment Day?

Ah, I couldn't really care. Sure, John From Cincinnati has that trademark Milch hard-boiled dialogue, laced liberally with expletives, but the characters grate from the moment they appear on-screen, whether its the caustic Cissy Yost (Rebecca DeMornay), the aggressive faded surf champion Mitch, vulture surf manager Linc (Luke Perry), or the smack-talking junkie Butchie (Brian Van Holt). (Not to mention Willie Garson, Matt Winston, and Luis Guzman.) Yes, these characters certainly are "colorful" but they aren't remotely sympathetic enough to make me want to take another gander at this series.

The Sopranos left its audience screaming "Don't stop" as it faded to black, but to follow up the end of a network-defining drama that rewrote the book on crime dramas and infused the zeitgeist with its tough talking lingo, makes John From Cincinnati not only a bitter pill to swallow, but I definitely have a hard time, as Journey might say, believin'.

Comments

The CineManiac said…
Sounds like a lot of good talent is being wasted on this show.
Of course I didn't watch it since I canceled all my movie channels last week, to save money for the arrival of my first child.
Anonymous said…
I am only 30 minutes in, so I stopped reading after the first paragraph, but...so far I couldn't agree more.

and why does Rebecca Demornay keep yelling at me?
Anonymous said…
I was totally confused watching this. Which made me feel dumb until I realized that most of the actors seemed confused too, as if they didn't really know what they were saying or why. And that made me feel better.

I actually liked the surfer family drama aspect of the show but the rest was needlessly complicated and slow. Overally, it just made me sleepy. Not a good sign.
Shawn Anderson said…
There are some things I know and some things I have no fracking clue about...

If I'm not at least a tad more clued in after the next episode, the end is near (for it's place in my DVR schedule.)
Anonymous said…
HBO dumped Deadwood for this garbage? I gave it 40 minutes of my time and when it was obvious that it was getting worse rather than better I turned it off. I wish I had counted the number of four letter words in that 40 minutes. Had to be a record. HBO, you suck!

Ed
Unknown said…
I'm sureley out of place here. I loved it. I cannot wait for Day 2!I've watched it 2 1/2 times, and like Deadwood, I found something interesting, funny, and peculiar with each watching. The dialoge is 1st rate, and I love Rebecca & all the characters. I spent the whole hour-ten with a smile on my face. Don't give up on this gem yet.
Anonymous said…
ok, I watched the rest...

it didn't get much better. rebecca demornay kinda stopped yelling at me, but then butchie started, so...

I will give it another episode. I loved Deadwood so much, that I am willing to see where it goes, but it better get better soon.

I like the surfer family aspect, and I am mostly curious about Bruce Greenwood's character and Ed O'neill's character. The rest didn't leave much of an impression.
Anonymous said…
I remember watching the first episode of Deadwood and it didn't really grab me at first.
Give JfC a chance! I love the comments: "Sounds like a lot of good talent is being wasted on this show. Of course I didn't watch it...", "I only watched 40 minutes...".

I can't say that I loved it and can't wait for the next episode. I did watch the whole show and thought it was a bit different, but good overall.
jules said…
I enjoyed it much better during my 2nd watching of it. (and after reading some things/theories online, etc).
Anonymous said…
anyone who does not see why this is a great show should just watch simpsons reruns. if that was too complicated; you're an idiot. this show will redefine hbo and it's trademark hour long drama.
-God
Paul Levinson said…
I pretty much agree with the disappointment, but, based on Milch's track record, I'm willing to give the second episode a chance... Some Thoughts on John from Cincinnati
Anonymous said…
You were spot on for the first episode. I tuned in mostly for Luke Perry and found myself wondering why I was still watching it halfway into it. And for someone reason I tuned in tonight for more abuse. I'm going to give it one more episode, mostly because I like the other work of most of these actors. If it doesn't pull it together at that point, I'm hanging it up. Jeepers, what a mess of a show!
Anonymous said…
"I loved Deadwood, so this sucks," is brilliant. These characters are raw and they should be hard to watch. The Dialog is amazing and the only thing that needs to change is the width of your imagination.

Nice to see a show that requires thought and imagination and doesn't rely on canned storylines, recycled humor, and laugh tracks. You can alway try Disney and CSI if you need to be walked through every scene.
Jonah Sauce said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonah Sauce said…
just to give everyone some perspective, neither deadwood, sopranos, OR the Wire (best show ever, by the way) grabbed you in the first episode. these shows are not csi. you need to stick with them.

that being said, this show rules. i sincerely hope that they don't give up on it. it's very well done, and even the surf scenes, lingo, and culture are spot on authentic.

if this show is too smart for you, cancel your hbo subscription.
Anonymous said…
I was also appalled at the overwhelming whiteness of a show allegedly set on the border.
goofy foot said…
Wow, seems the comments here on this show are a self fulfilling prophecy. Wong wrong wrong, the need to jump on the review of a show in the first half hour or first episode is absurd. I waited and after the second episode I am sold on it. The show has me wondering, the cast is stacked with talent, especially the fringe characters. The writing is solid the acting as well, okay rebecca demornay needs to tone it down.

Who knows where the show will go, which has me intrigued and I have faith in Milch. Overall after the second show I am hooked.
Anonymous said…
I agree that the first episode was confusing and muddled but I just watched episode 3 and I have to say that it's shaping up to be the best thing I've seen on TV for years. It's not a pretty dumbed down show with 1 hour plot lines and 30 second character development but that's what HBO does best.
I honestly have no idea what the show will turn out to be about but watching this broken family heal itself both figuratively and literally is something new.
Milch wrote NYPD Blue and Deadwood...it's a good bet that he knows a bit better than you how to write compelling TV.
Unknown said…
I want to recommend this to my minister, but I'm not sure he would survive the language. The theme and characters remind me of a modern day biblical tour. Everyone is changing for the better, fighting it all the way. I like what I'm seeing and I hope the show challenges me with more than the occasional miracle.
Anonymous said…
I guess it doesn't surprise me how few people here liked the show--it's wierd, unpredictable, a surf version of magic realism. But me, I've fallen head over heels in love. Literally, I was in tears at the end of the second episode, which probably is an idiosyncratic reaction, but there it was.

The extras on the HBO on demand that we have had the actor playing John describing his character as taking in the toxicity of the characters around him and giving back what they are really saying, without the suffering. And Milch talks about responding to what he feels are the extremely desperate times. So I think what I was responding to how Milch and this show are taking these people, this dysfunctional community on the edge of disaster, drawing off the poisons and presenting them with an odd purity. Everyone here (much more so than Deadwood) is accepted and loved for who they are. This is John's perspective on his new family; he doesn't overlook their faults, rather, he sees them as insubstantial in the face of the numinous within them.

In the third episode, after John and Kai return from their "boneing", they stand before the human zoo outside the Yost's house and he again says, "See God, Kai," meaning that here it is, right in front of us. We are It and we keep missing it until someone like John comes along and points it out. I've met monks like John and they'll shake you to the core with the way they reflect back to you who you really are at depth. And it's not just shit and pain.

I really believe that what JfC is presenting is a truer vision of life than what is typically presented in art, certainly in television. Not in the magic stuff happening in physical ways, but metaphorically, we're missing the magic ALL THE TIME. I.e., think about your capacity to read this post and then follow it's roots. What do you actually know about the brains ability to code and decode? How does it actually happen? Given that the other planets in this solar system are as far as we can tell blobs of minerals, think about the crazy magic of your ability to read.

That's what I think JfC is getting at, that we're missing the magic of common life, settling for a dumbed down version, an obsessive picking at our own scabs. It's doing it in an outrageous, inflated way, but the point is true, and the vision is actually real.

So, my two cents.
Anonymous said…
I agree with every single word Marty said before me. Now, my own two cents...

I know shows take a "shake down" period, usually a few episodes to half a season, sometimes needing a full season to "settle in".

Not so for me with John From Cincinnati. I was hooked from the get-go, Episode One, my mouth hanging open and promptly watched Episode Two, not able to get enough from the first. Thank the Gods for HBO On Demand. And as with Marty, the Third Episode, while it didn't have me crying, I was just stunned, goosebumps to the point of almost pain.

I'm not a religious person, don't believe in "God" per sae. But I do believe in a sense of the "Divine" if you will. And "See God, Kai" - That sums the whole show up right there. The brilliance of Life manifesting in the Universe, boiling down even to this crazy, messed up, dysfunctional circle of family and friends. That even within suffering there is "God". Deadwood has this quality too, although I think more Deadwood says that even within suffering there is humaness. JfC has a much more mystical, spiritual bent than Deadwood.

Milch is an Artiste, a poet weaving the craziness of life around your head, to be soaked in and to be metabolized into such sweetness, humaness, spiritness.

I am hoping that John From Cincinnati sticks around for its full deserved run, however many seasons that might be.

I love this show and urge folks to give it the chance it really deserves.

To Everyone: "See God."
Anonymous said…
The New Messiah is an Idiot in California

Saddled with stereotypical characters and vapid dialogue, HBO’s “John From Cincinatti” is a stranded ship that will draw viewers in with an interesting hook, then be sunk by their tears of boredom. HBO is the network that does not know how to end a series. So now it is ending them at the beginning.


The new HBO series “John From Cincinatti” is receiving some good reviews but has key flaws.

The series is advertised as being from the same Producers (headed by Ted Mann, who also is a writer) as another HBO series, “Deadwood.” Deadwood was a violent (some say vile and ugly) treatment of the Old West and was mostly historically accurate in its portrayals of human depravity and viciousness. It appears that “John” is intended by these producers as a deliberate counter to that work with a positive message of miracles, hope and redemption in the backdrop of the brutal realities of human existence. Or, in this case, in the backdrop of dumb Californians.

While saintliness was largely non-existent or two-dimensional in “Deadwood,” which is closer to human reality, “John” attempts to give us a genuine saint in the form of an idiot savant who is out to save airheaded, self-absorbed California Caucasians from themselves by making their faults more obvious to them. Anybody with half a brain knows their own shortcomings. Most people do not need or want a saintly idiot-savant to point out their faults with less-than-subtle miracles. And if they encountered one, they just might kick his ass. Especially in Southern California. Unless, of course, they were afraid of being struck by lightning. In that case, John would probably get whacked.
Which he does. What would Jesus do? He’d undoubtedly go to the West Coast and get killed by gang members.

To compare two completely different shows is unfair. But the lack of certain parallels is fair game for criticism. Deadwood had numerous interesting characters and many good artists. It was unfairly cancelled after two seasons but probably could have lasted a few more. “John” has excellent actors, also, including at least two from Deadwood, Steady Lopez and Garrett Dillahunt. But “John” is unlikely to last as long.

And what a waste of talent saddled with empty and badly-written characters! Rebecca De Mornay desperately over-acts as if to say, “This script really sucks!” Her exchanges with Bruce Greenwood are borrowed from daytime soap operas. And they seem to go on forever, like dental surgery. SNOOOORE! Ed O’Neill has really deserved a good role for a long time. And he gets involved in this bomb as a crazy recluse who talks to his birds. Fire your agent, Ed.

The only really interesting character in the new show is the title character, played by Austin Nichols. His lines, with very few exceptions, are simply the repeating of anything said to him. Which would definitely get his ass kicked just about anywhere. The rest, perhaps with the exception of the two characters played by Lopez and Dillahunt, are excruciatingly bland. But even these two must wander through this empty drama like desert nomads thirsty for a character with direction.

The issue of boring California stereotypes continued with the recent episode which showed John being stabbed in the heart by LA Hispanic gang types. Now he can rise from the dead. No need to look for Jesus, HBO has found him. He’s an idiot in California.

The story lines demonstrate that the show has nowhere to go. It will be a show of situational scenes with John causing supernatural occurrences and nobody really understanding why. What can’t they understand? He’s obviously a person with God-given supernatural powers; a genuine holy man. But once they reveal the true nature of John and explain what he is and why, and have the other idiot characters in the show finally understand, the show is kaput. So they probably cannot and will not, even if they could. They could have him crucified, but that ending has already been done.

In “John From Cincinatti,” the hook is the entire deal. Nobody wants a good show to end, but a bad one ends at the beginning. “John” will inevitably be a long tease without a pay-off. Deadwood left their fans hanging, but it wasn’t the producers’ fault. The plug got pulled by the Execs. It’s been joked that they reached the HBO quota for profanity in one series. It makes one wonder if John is the apology to the producers for canceling a good show like Deadwood. Like they give an Artsy film once in a while as a thrown bone to Actors who make money for the studio.

The flaws are as easy to spot in “John” as the incredibly vapid dialogue.
“See God, Kye!,” John says. Slutty Kye goes into a trance and finds God in her nipples and vagina where she has repeatedly alluded to numerous piercings. Give me a break! If Kye felt a burning down there, it was no miracle.

HBO has done much better than this, and should. “John” would have done better to just have good surfing, good music, and nothing else, like another cable channel. By the way, wasn’t there supposed to be more surfing in this show?
Anonymous said…
Perhaps they could end it by having John beheaded at a woman's request...one obvious and hackneyed euphemism I failed to include in my critique.......
Anonymous said…
I am glad I didn't read this review before watching the first 3 episodes. I really like this show and hope HBO will keep it around for a long while.

Give it a chance, folks.
Anonymous said…
"I don't know, Butchie, instead." has become our new household phrase.
I love 'John From Cincinnati', so far.
Anonymous said…
I have waited for it to arrive and watched every episode......................What a breath of fresh air for HBO...............This is just my take on it so be cool but I think you have to at least give it a chance before just going off on it and I also think it's the best show on TV right now.........I was a die hard Deadwood fan but it had run it's course and had nowhere else to go......See God HBO fans !!!!!!!!!
Anonymous said…
I agree with the other posters who say viewers need to give this show a chance to develop. Many viewers including myself didn't get into the Sopranos, Deadwood, Entourage, or the Wire right away, and all of those shows turned out to be excellent. I have a feeling Milch is setting the scene for some interesting things to come, and I can't wait. My only gripe is Rebecca DeMornay. Sometimes I am enraptured by her performance, and other times (like episode 4) I am shocked at the overacting.
Kenny S said…
After "Windfall" and now this train wreak, Luke Perry should consider firing his agent. This is the worst show I have ever seen. Cissy's lines are easy, just SCREAM the f word for an hour. I hope the blond kid can surf because he sure can't act. The rest or the cast are just tedious and annoying. If the Yost's, et al are this miserable then maybe the producers can do us all a favor and stage a mass suicide on the much anticipated final episode
Anonymous said…
Look folks, there's no sense in getting analytical or "deep" about it:

This show sucks and that's that.
Anonymous said…
This is easily my favorite new show on television this year. It challenges the viewer and is not for everyone, but astute viewers should enjoy hopping on for the ride.
Anonymous said…
It's as if dumb people appreciate anything which alludes to a whole lot of nothing because of the fact that it makes them finally think, "I wonder what (blank) means? I think that it all means (blank)."

By making random ramblings and being blatently self-indulgent does not make it smart.

Bottom line: This show sucks like a Dirt Devil upright.
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