Tuesday, July 03, 2007

John From Cincy: When did Lloyd Dobler check in?

Day-late spoilers for "John From Cincinnati" coming up just as soon as I finish bubble-wrapping my staircase...

I have to say, this show is definitely growing on me. I realize that the first couple of episodes had to lay a lot of groundwork to make these last two possible, but the more recent shows feel much clearer of purpose -- and, therefore, more entertaining -- than anything Milch and company did in the first couple of weeks.

Things that have me happy this week include the expanded role for Dr. Smith, quickly becoming my favorite character with his genuine awe of John and the events surrounding him; the new sober Butchie, whose clearer mental state has forced Brian Van Holt to dial down some of the more annoying tics in his performance, and whose flirtation with Kai managed to be both sweet and dirty at the same time; Cass finally becoming useful as John's new roommate (and leaving Linc to no doubt turn into this show's version of Cy Tolliver, bitching off in the corner while the rest of the cast does stuff without him); the promise of many, many scenes to come of Dayton Callie and Ed O'Neill bickering in Milchspeak; and the sense that the motel is finally becoming important as a gathering place where all the characters may become "permanently associated." (Or is that too overtly gay?)

Best of all, though, was the way that John stopped feeling like a quirky plot device and became, if not a person, someone interesting. When he was in the first van, his echolalia seemed dangerous; he was baiting the guy to stab him, because he needed to help Vietnam Joe (who clearly fell down on the job in a similar situation when he was in country) and find a way to connect with Cass. And there was a confidence to him when he returned to the motel that I hadn't seen before. (Maybe he was feeding off of Dr. Smith's abject worship of him?)

If you want a more thorough breakdown of all the religious symbolism in episode four, check out Keith Uhlich's review over at The House Next Door. Some other quick thoughts:
  • Well, now we know both how Bill got involved with the Yosts (his late wife urged him to cut 10-year-old Butchie a break), and why he's crazy (his wife broke her neck falling down the spiral staircase in their home, which Bill now pads with bubble wrap to protect future stair-climbers).
  • There was a lot of speculation that the earthquake that snapped Shaun's neck was connected to Freddy punching John, but John got both punched and stabbed here with no major environmental consequences.
  • The mysterious blonde (whose identity was made quite clear in the previews for episode five) was played by Chandra West, late of "NYPD Blue" (in the post-Milch era) and wife of "John" producer/director Mark Tinker. In more direct Milch alum news, we have Stephen Tobolowsky (aka Jarry from Yankton) on board for at least one episode as the hospital's liability lawyer. I'm just glad we didn't have to see him motor-boating.
  • Lovely economy of dialogue: "Bill's not Freddy's first Bill" and "Freddy's not Bill's first Freddy."
  • Still don't give a damn about Mitch, Cissy or Shaun. Sorry.
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

There was a lot of speculation that the earthquake that snapped Shaun's neck was connected to Freddy punching John, but John got both punched and stabbed here with no major environmental consequences.

Didn't John bait the guys into violence this time, though? That may be the difference.

I'm still intrigued enough to hang around until the end of the season, although I was slightly annoyed that the highest we've seen Mitch levitate is after sex with Cass. Is she supposed to be the Mary Magdalene figure? If so...eh, not sure I like that. But I do like the show. Bring on more crazy Bill!

Anonymous said...

I agree, it's geting better. John's quoting comments that he wasn't around to hear is a really interesting development.

But I just cannot get over how truly bad the actors who play Shaun and Kai are.

Rahul said...

I'm so glad there's this blog since I don't get the Star Ledger anymore!

Anonymous said...

Being a old NYPD-Blue fan, I have to admit I was very disappointed in the opening episode of this series. I don't know what I was expecting, but what I got in the first episode wasn't what I wanted or expected from Milch.

BUT, now I'm starting to get it and I'm hooked. We used to look for the "line of the week" back when Blue was still on. In this show, it's hard to pick just one.

My nominee this week:

"All my ladies set off the metal detector or they aren't my ladies long"

Chandra West is *smoking* hot!

Shaun's only rival for "worst actor" ever is Michael Chiklis' daughter on The Shield. It's close.


Abbie said...

I don't know. I'm new to the "Milch" thing, as it appears to be, but I'm just kinda hanging on to this show due to nothing else to watch, not any need to see it.

There was a little too much exposition for the sake of it, especially with Ed O'Neill using the parrot as an excuse to monologue.

For some reason, I like John. I keep watching for that. I don't like the motel guys, though. And I usually love Luiz Guzman. Even he is struggling to make that dialogue work, in my opinion.

Peter Martin said...

Agree with Alan: The first two episodes were so off that I almost stopped watching, but the last two have grown on me. Is it getting used to the universe, or a lowering of expectations? Maybe a little of both. It's still not exactly a "drop everything and make sure to watch it" show, but it does feature an assortment of actors I like, and lately there's been less straightforward 'soap opera' talk. And even a non-professional like Shaun is OK as long as he doesn't talk much.

Anonymous said...

Take away the name 'David Milch' and this show would be canceled by now. If this summer wasn't already stocked with bad shows and retreads, there wouldn't be this 'growing on me' syndrome. If you were on a transatlantic flight and they showed JFC as the entertainment, there would be an air-riot. If they showed Deadwood, people wouldn't get off the plane upon arrival.

Look, no show should have "actors" that are clearly terrible and distracting with their lack of ability. I know, I get it that Milch wanted some real people from the X-games world to populate his surf noir, but if you make that choice it can't be this much of a detriment.

I don't find anything about John original or creative. Its just eccentricity of eccentricity's sake. I also think that JFC is being made up as it goes along, because there is such a lack of direction about EVERYTHING. I'd bet large that their is no way Milch has the whole arc of this series laid out, and that a gun to his head today could get the meaning of this mess of a show out of him.

I gave it as much chance as I care to, I no longer want to hope it really has a payoff and suffer on Sunday nights trying to get there. I expect the number of comments for this show to be < 10 from here on out on this blog (discounting repeat posters) as the true indication that this show is a stinker and not a sleeper.

Anonymous said...

I though Kai seemed a lot better this episode... though everyone seems better around Butchie. And certainly her awkwardness works in some way on the show. I predict she'll be/get better than Megan Clennon (Lila) on Deadwood.

Anonymous said...

Take away the name 'David Milch' and this show would be canceled by now.

That's probably not true. This is an HBO show, not a network show. HBO will let the series run, then decide whether or not to renew it. Didn't even Lucky Louie (which HBO seems not to have liked at all) get its full run?

I also don't understand the antagonism towards Kai. She doesn't seem to me any more mannered in her performance and delivery than Emily Rose (thoughtful glances into the distance) or Rebecca DeMornay (regular histrionics). And I thought she was quite good in the trailer scene with Butchie, where she had to display an unexpected sweetness. I can understand the frustration with Shaun more, but it's not like he's asked to carry much dramatic weight. Like John, he's kind of a blank, and I think that's what the show requires him to be. A little reticence is fine in a teenage messiah.

I do share the concerns about lack of direction, though. Or, more specifically, a lack of inquisitiveness on the part of the leads. I can understand why Dr. Smith is self-effacing. He's just seen a miracle, and he wants to cozy up to the Yosts without overstepping any bounds. And Bill is clearly unbalanced. But Kai, Butchie, and especially Mitch have strong reason to want to pull John aside and ask him some hard questions. And yet, when Mitch gets a golden opportunity to do so at Cass' place, he chooses instead to act like a petulant spurned lover. Meanwhile, Butchie and Kai, after searching for John all day, let him take off with an unknown woman who works for Linc. (The whole situation reminded me too much of Sawyer and Kate letting Karl wander off into the wilderness instead of asking him what he meant about the children being "fine".)

Moreover, I clearly see the temptation to use John as an occasional plot level deus ex machina -- suddenly Cass is in the center of the action, for reasons unknown, and we get some convenient back story on Vietnam Joe. I thought Milch has said in interviews that the scenario in John is one in which God has an urgent message to communicate. If so, it'd be nice of John was less of a cipher and more of a character. And I think the only way for that to happen, given John's current condition, is for some people to start asking him some direct questions, even if they don't get any clear answers.


Anonymous said...

Anon: Lucky Louie basically had a full season run (there was one unaired episode, but it probably would have been held for a second season anyway).

Kai I've got no problem with, and I like the genuineness that she brings to the role and the show. Rebecca DeMornay I love, if just for her crazy eyes.

But yeah, still loving the show, and the Vietnam Joe stuff was good. What really got me was when John mentioned the bulge diologue which he had not been privy to. Though what I also like is how the characters of the show are becoming knowledgable about all the weird shit that's going on (in particular, when Mitch said how John looked at him in a way like he knew what was going on), and are starting to get some sort of understanding around it.

Favourite scene: the van and the latinos.

stevie said...

The show is growing on me, too, but I'm not loving it. I'm more or less watching because it's irregular. It's like watching a serialized absurdist play. There are some great actors on here, but save the doctor and John, everyone delivers their dialogue in this stilted format, the direction feels really stagey, and even the characters' movements are somewhat stiff and unnatural.

Anything with a magic telepathic bird ought to be a little funny, and this is so self-serious that it's not. And Luis Guzman, Willy Garson, and the weird gay man remind me of the omniscient retarded kitchen people from Lars von Trier's The Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Kai's my favorite part of the show. Her bedroom scene with butchie was amazing for it's honesty.

Her presence reminds me of John Robinson, the kid from elephant and lords of dogtown. He was briefly in transformers, but his performance feels so authentic.

I'm really hoping that judd apatow's successes allow this type of naturalism to become more and more accepted in films.

Donlee Brussel said...

To the person above me, blow me.

Surfer turned "actors" like John Robinson and the kid who plays Shaun on here aren't "authentic," they're deadly dull black holes devoid of charisma and bring every scene they're in down to a grinding halt.

I agree with you Alan, with the exception of Butchie, the Yosts are boring, boring people.

I think the show would be much improved if Milch realizes sooner than later that the show would be much stronger if the Yosts were peripheral characters that no one really got to know.