I did not expect to watch the premiere of John From Cincinnati but I, like 11 million other people, watched the finale to The Sopranos with friends and, after much wine, ended up lying on the couch for an additional television hour.
I had heard about the show through the numerous ads throughout the city. Bruce Greenwood's elevated feet have been plastered on buses for weeks. I did not give the show much thought because surfing is not really my thing. As a black girl from New York who can barely swim, I tend to watch surfing and think: hey, that's nice. It seems like a lot of activity before my morning coffee but have at it! Blue Crush was my first and last surfing film. I was satisfied with that film. I felt complete.
My other trepidation was that well, pilots usually suck. The ones that do not, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip for example, have a hard time living up to the initial hype. They are filled with exposition in dialogue. People call each other by their first names over and over to make sure that the audience picks up what their names actually are. Usually, there are too many characters. People state their dilemmas over and over. The viewer always wants more information but not too much information because then the show will have nowhere to go. Face it, first episodes are just frustrating.
Many of these things are true about John From Cincinnati. The premise is simple enough. John appears out of the clear blue sky to a beach town somewhere in California professing that the end is near. A dysfunctional surfing family comes into contact with him and the father gets the ability to levitate. It's the next coming of Christ, maybe, possibly. There are many supporting characters who will probably be the highlight of the show and win all sorts of awards. They are mainly people you have seen on TV before as Al Bundy (Ed O'Neil), Stanford Blanch (Willie Garson) and Dylan McKay (Luke Perry).
As anticipated, I had many questions:
Why is everyone so blonde?
Is the father that guy from The Sweet Hereafter?
Why do they say 'fuck' so much?
What filters are they using to make it look so foggy all the time?
What the heck is going on?
I tend to like low-brow television. For this reason, I am not a huge fan of HBO shows. I watched the finale of The Sopranos because it was a cultural phenomenon. The moment the episode was over, I did not give it a second thought.
Honestly though, I like low-brow television because it is all I can afford. I do not have HBO because well, I am a documentary filmmaker. For those who glamorize our profession let me demystify it a bit for you. Though we do important work, most of us are poor.
As an HBO-less gal, I never saw the point in getting addicted to a show that I had to wait months to see on DVD. I have friends who love The Wire and who, like me, do not have HBO. They're like heroin addicts whose pushers are on vacation. They roam from house to house trying to find a hit. They keep talking about their "leads" on bootleg DVD copies of recent episodes. This has never seemed appealing to me.
With all of my cynicism, I have to admit that, days after, I cannot stop thinking about John from Cincinnati. What does it all mean? Fans of Deadwood, creator David Milch's most recent show, say that it leaves a similar feeling. John from Cincinnati reminded me of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Milch clearly is influenced by classical literature because Deadwood is written entirely in iambic pentameter and this show seemed to be written in some other rhythmic pattern as well. In Endgame, one has the impression of watching the end of something, the end possibly of the human race. John leaves you with this same feeling. The end is near but no one wants to face it but maybe, maybe there is hope.
John from Cincinatti has not made me a convert yet but I am not supposed to be. Good television forces you to think, whether you want to or not. And this show made my head hurt. And that might not be a bad thing.