Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Take this shape-changing mope with you.": John from Cincinnati

In its second episode, John from Cincinnati remains both fascinating and enervating. All of the stuff with the Yost family and their increasing entanglement with both John and the weird, supernatural occurrences plaguing Imperial Beach was fascinating, right down to the parakeet that can (apparently) heal the sick and raise the dead. But the subplot stuff with the motel and its new owner seems largely extraneous at this point. I'm sure I'll be proven wrong on this, and David Milch will tie it in brilliantly somehow, but for right now, it feels like a bit of a way to kill some time.

But before we get into that, let's get into the opening credits a bit. The opening credits weren't included on screener DVDs (apparently, this is common practice for HBO), and it was a detriment to the show, I think. The best credits sequences (and, honestly, every HBO credits sequence I can think of is great) put you in the right frame of mind to watch the series itself (David said to me earlier today that when he first saw the credits* for Big Love -- not on the DVD screeners -- he knew he would love the show). The credits to John from Cincinnati, set to "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer (legal download here), perfectly blend a hazy sense of apocalypse (the song actually contains a line about killing all the bees), surfing, the U.S.-Mexico border and a sad nostalgia for summers of long ago into a potent package that seems to promise that we definitely are going somewhere worth visiting. Just having those crystal-blue credits running before the show every week gives me some measure of confidence in the storytellers (that Deadwood and NYPD Blue didn't already).

If you want to watch them right now, here they are!

So, that in mind, let's tackle tonight's episode, another strange, elliptical episode that meandered for a while, had some terrific moments and felt full of goofy, perfect dialogue. In particular, I'm really enjoying all of the mystical stuff, from the small earthquake (or temblor) starting when the drug dealer (an essentially unrecognizable Dayton Callie -- better known as Deadwood's Charlie Utter) punched John to Butchie seemingly shrugging off his druggy haze thanks to the influence of John (seemingly).

What I also liked is that this episode threw all of the Yosts into an understandable light for me. Ostensibly, Bruce Greenwood and Rebecca DeMornay are the leads, but I finally got a sense of them as characters, not symbolic plot devices, tonight, particularly DeMornay's Cissy, who now makes a degree of sense that she didn't really before. Hospital waiting rooms are played out as settings for drama on TV now, but JFC really needed that scene where everyone rushed to the side of Shaun's bed after his tragic accident to give us a sense of them as a family. And it gave us that terrific shot of the parakeet kissing Shaun's lips and seemingly raising him from the dead (I have to say I haven't seen a lot of Christ imagery surrounding parakeets in the past).

John, meanwhile, expanded his vocabulary some more and became fascinated with the process of defecation, even though he doesn't seem to be capable of doing so. His imitation of the sounds of "dumping out" was pretty funny, and Austin Nichols is doing a great job with this blank slate of a character, reacting exactly as you or I might if we had to learn everything very fast. We also finally heard him say he was from Cincinnati, so there's the title for you.

Meanwhile, Luis Guzman, Willie Garson and the other guy I'm too tired to look up were stranded in a subplot about a haunted hotel room.

If ever there was a show that seemed designed to have people compare notes and ideas, it's this one, sort of a much-smarter Lost in that regard. After seeing this episode on the screeners, I knew I would watch the full season, and I think next week is even better. This show is hypnotic, but also fun to jaw about. So what are your theories on what's going on?

* I'll have you know searching for that video led me to find one of the weirdest things I've ever seen on YouTube -- a tribute video to Daveigh Chase's Rhonda Volmer, set to the strains of Jimmy Eat World.


Carrie said...

I have no idea what's going on, but I'm enjoying it. I kind of thought that Shaun had healing powers after bringing the bird back to life last week, but maybe he transferred those powers back to the bird? I don't know.

I agree that the best thing about the show is the language. It lulls you into thinking you know what's going on when you really have no clue, you're just happy to be listening to these people talk.

If there really is healing going on, I'm glad there's no reciprocal dying like in Carnivale and (SPOILER, sorta) the upcoming Pushing Daisies. That's very played out.

Paul Levinson said...

I'm with Carrie. I liked the second episode a little better than the first, and, strangely, I'm going to keep watching.... John from Cincinnati

Wax Banks said...

Every refugee from Deadwood that shows up among the Yosts grants me a few moments of perfect happiness. Todd, I gotta say I'm loving the hotel shenanigans - not least because this week they provided the best single line of dialogue I've heard in literally years ('I woke up this morning happy; I mistook that freedom for power'). But it was the runup to that line that nearly made me cry: lawyer Dickstein, his eyes downcast, offering strength to a new friend, surprising himself: 'Well you're with us now. ... Fuck room 24.' Not to sound like a preening wannabe academic, but this is the place to quote Thomas Pynchon: 'They were in love. Fuck the war.' A gorgeous moment of connection.

This is a less ironically-analytical show than Deadwood (which pulled out to a bird's-eye view once in a while to view its titular organism, something the gospel of John has yet to do), a work in a different register: more romantic, more nakedly spiritual, more immediately affectionate. The three wise men are the center of that, the most forgiving story so far, it seems. I fell for Deadwood at the same moment as many, many viewers (the death of Wild Bill); I've already fallen for this new story. (How can your heart not break to hear Ed O'Neill pleading into the phone: 'Don't yell at me, don't yell at me, don't yell at me...'?) As Dennis Potter apparently (roughly) said at the read-through of The Singing Detective: close to the fucking bone, isn't it.