Monday, 12 November 2007

John From Cincinnati

I don't watch much TV, but what I do watch tends, these days to be from the US: just a handful of shows, which include The Shield, The Wire, Lost, and Deadwood. My latest favourite is John From Cincinnati, David Milch's follow-up to Deadwood. John From Cincinnati is a wonderful show, sadly already cancelled after a mere ten episodes. This doesn't surprise me, as this show, a strange mixture of family drama, surfing, and mysticism, is often difficult to follow and offers no easy answers to its mysterious questions.

In a sense, John From Cincinnati, is a familiar idea: a dysfunctional family is visited by a strange, stranger, who proceeds by his influence to correct the ills of the family. As the series progresses, this benign influence begins to extend, not only to the surrounding community, but out, it is hinted, to the rest of the planet as well.

The mysterious John Monad, with his comically expressive face, described by another character as "A tall drink of water with a poodle hair cut," appears apparently from nowhere, doesn't know how to shake hands or cross a road safely, but is able to produce out of his previously empty pocket, a roll of money, a credit card (with unlimited credit on it), and a phone (with infinite minutes). Strange things happen during his visit: a man begins to levitate, a dead bird returns to life, a brain-damaged boy is healed. John is not able to talk directly about himself or the events he puts into motion. He can only repeat back in variations what others have said to him, creating much Johnspeak: quotable and oft-repeated phrases which he's obliged to fall back on.

Not for the casual viewer, John From Cincinnati demands concerted attention. It is often annoyingly inscrutable, but it is also amusing, tender, and heartrending. The innocent John, contrasts sharply with the very fallible humans who make up the rest of the extended cast, enhancing the otherworldly quality that the character has. This strange white figure has already, at least in my mind, become an iconic TV character. It's sad that we'll never see him again.

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