'John from Cincinnati': The Kahuna has spoken
O mighty oracle David Milch. Let's go through your resume, shall we? We have "Hill Street Blues," followed by "NYPD Blue," and then, most recently, "Deadwood." This gives me hope that somehow, sometime, "John from Cincinnati" will pull together and make some kind of sense. Sure, HBO's latest has all of Milch's rat-a-tat-tat mellifluously profane chatter -- which is worthwhile just to listen to, kind of like poetry read aloud -- but anything that's presented under the guise of narrative television needs to be something more than free verse.
Here's the cut-and-dried story told by the pilot: The Yost family, a surfing dynasty in Imperial Beach, California, is tres screwed up. Patriarch Mitch Yost, played by Bruce Greenwood, is a retired surfing legend dealing with a blown out knee, his brittle wife, Cissy (Rebecca De Mornay), and a son, Butchie, (Brian Van Holt) who traded his incredible surfing talent for the vibrant, glamorous life of a junkie.
What's currently dividing the clan is that Mitch's grandson Shaun (Greyson Fletcher) is yearning to test his surfing genes on the professional circuit and needs to get to Huntington Beach for a competition, where skeezy sponsors are swarming. (The fact that this means De Mornay, 48, is presented as old enough to have a teenage grandson defies even my wee math skills.) But all that seems so mundane, right? So throw in the mysterious John of the title, a demiaustistic Bible-alluding Greek chorus (portrayed by Austin Nichols) that follows around the Yost clan, and Butchie's flophouse/no-tell motel being sold out from underneath him to a guy he tormented with a broomstick when he was a kid (and now has a stuffed teddy bear to keep him company), as well as Mitch's possible brain tumor (or surfer's ear, or a Messiah complex, as he hasn't been to a doctor yet to be officially diagnosed, you see) that is causing him to levitate.
The actors, across the board, are engaging -- even the bit players like family friends played by Ed O'Neill, Luis Guzman and Willie Garson stand out with just a few lines -- and the surfing footage is Endless Summer-riffic. So what's the whole of these parts? Is it performance art from Milch or a cohesive story? We shall see.
(Photo courtesy HBO)