John From Cincinnati
David Milch gets a lot of leeway from Aerial Telly. As creator of what Aerial Telly regards as the finest TV show ever made, he knows that Aerial Telly will follow him to the gates of hell for his next project. And the smell of sulphur did seem strong in the air as I watched the first episode of John From Cincinnati, Milch’s practically indecipherable show about a down-on-its-luck surfing dynasty quietly fading into obscurity in a Southern Californian beach community. Mitch Yost the permanently angry patriarch is a former pro-surfer who now runs a surf shop with his wife Cissy. Butchie Yost is their smackhead son who began riding the horse after the pressures of his surf career got too much. Butchie’s 13-year-old son Shaun is another surf prodigy who just wants to ignore the grown-ups arguments and get on his board. All very Movie of the Week so far but we haven’t got to the strangeness yet.
Shortly after we meet him, Mitch discovers he has the ability to levitate. He assumes he is hallucinating but the floating persists. And then there’s John. Seeming at first to be just another fan boy hoping to get Butchie Yost out of retirement John has something of the mentals about him. He will often repeat what he has already heard and appears to have supernatural powers. He may be from Cincinnati, he may not. And none of this is ever really explained.
I guess what’s bothering me about John From Cincinnati is the very idea of it being weird and enigmatic. The last thing I want is another fucking Carnivale. Fair enough, that was created by turds and this was created by a genius but when you’ve sat through your share of self-consciously oblique films your tolerance for this type of thing lowers. You could spend endless hours debating the religious allegory implicit in the show but when the characters aren’t really jumping out from the waves and making you love them why should you bother? It’s got quite a sound kicking from the press. It’s not exactly a turkey – it’s a decent enough tale of thwarted ambition, the pressures of parenthood and small-town strangeness – I just expect so much more from Milch. Is that unreasonable?
The best thing about it: I do rather like the surf footage
The worst thing about it: It’s not Deadwood. And it may be Carnivale.
The verdict on John From Cincinnati: I’ll give it a few more episodes.
Marks out of 10: 7