David Milch (YGtCTO #183)

John from Cincinnati

Television series created by David Milch and Kem Nunn

Cutting to the final judgement, John from Cincinnati was something of a mess, a mesmerizing mess, but still not something you were ever going to persuade most people to watch.

“It’s this show about this guy who shows up in this surfing community on southern California. Miracles start happening and his initials are, you know, John and Cincinnati. Really, it’s about this family and all this stuff keeps happening to them. The acting is really amazing with this incredible cast. Oh, and it was canceled like halfway through the first season, so it ends with this really long monologue that tries to explain everything you’ve seen.”

I loved every minute of the show, from the opening theme through that bizarre lecture that wraps everything up with a very confusing-looking knot.

Milch has been widely hailed for his work on Deadwood and NYPD Blue. He worked on Hill Street Blues, too. My point being that he had plenty of verified before John from Cincinnati, but this is the work that haunts me. The cast is mindbogglingly brilliant, populated with familiar faces. The stories as written and presented just seep into your eyeballs, requiring a few quiet minutes of contemplation after each episode.

David Milch

By the time this show came along, Milch definitely had the auteur thing going. After all, he had received ritual blessing from The New Yorker. With Deadwood, he moved well into the mystical camp when the opportunity presented itself, but that’s a hard sell for a television audience when ratings matter.

Sure, you can do a show about faith or religion,

but the plot needs to hold sway over the ideas. Honestly, John from Cincinnati feels loaded with plot, but the mystical elements play as unexplained events- sort of The X-Files with the detectives replaced by a family drama where all the weirdness occurs in the background of scenes, only tangentially affecting people’s behavior.

So, yes, it is hard to mix philosophy into your tale, especially when it seems like you’re using the tale to explore the philosophy yourself. Perhaps that is the ultimate downfall of the show. The viewer has the sense that the writer is trying to work out his personal issues right there before us. Real-time memoir may not be such a good thing.

But that’s why the show doesn’t work so well, or at least didn’t last. Why do people still discuss it, as opposed to sop many other lost shows? I don’t know what I knew when I started watching. I think I only became aware of the 10 episode length after watching the first couple. The reassurance of a vague attempt at pulling it all together (along with the short commitment- it was only 10 episodes) made playing it out a viable option.

The show just kept on giving what we most want in our art. We need honesty and connection. Sure, I knocked the idea of the writer placing his personal struggles down on paper in real time, but that’s a dodge. Sometimes, we have the opportunity to see what someone is feeling and we should take it.

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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 117 more to go.

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