28 June, 2007

Buzz: "John from Cincinnati"

This new drama about three generations of famous surfers is what HBO hope will replicate the success of The Sopranos but unfortunately it's pretentious toss.

It's brought to us by David Milch who gave us Deadwood and surf-noir author Kem Nunn, who also has a Deadwood writing credit. Milch is revered in some quarters but non-naturalistic dialogue and unlikeable characters do not make you a genius. There are fans enthusiastically speculating and interpreting what it could all possibly mean but can't that mystery be combined with good story-telling?

I really don't mind being made to think, my love of The Wire is testament to that, the show gives me headaches, but John from Cincinnati just doesn't seem worth the effort. Rather than hidden depths revealing itself at some later stage I suspect it will remain shallow and self-indulgent. It's Milch saying "like it or lump it". Well, I'm lumping it.

The opening of episode 1 was deliberately obtuse and while Paul Schrader said "an audience will rather be confused than bored", I was both. Sure, Milch is a maverick and a rebel but when you lose two-thirds of your audience between episode 1 and 2 then maybe you have to re-think that rebellious maverickness.

The only likeable character is the younger surfer dude, which actually isn't a problem. I hated most of The Sopranos characters, for instance, but I was made to care about what happened to them. By going the non-naturalistic route and by the characters being simply mouthpieces in the debate about surfing being too commercial, they are difficult to identify with. But give those same characters Milch and Nunn have created to another showrunner and I suspect it would be brilliant as there is, frustratingly, some potential there.

And that's another thing, the 'prophet not profit' shtick is getting on my wick. Who really cares about surfing being too commercial. Is that really the big issue of the series? Will the bad sponsors give the younger surfer dude money? The suspense is so not fucking killing me.

My surfing days are behind me but I can keep up with what's going on by watching championships from all over the world on telly. That wouldn't be possible without sponsorship. It's especially galling coming from a multi-millionaire working in television. It could perhaps be argued that television is too commercial. If I was actually any good at surfing I would love to have been paid to do that and travel around the world.

The second episode was a slight improvement and more interesting things happened but there was never any sense that the main problem in the episode was a real problem and the ending was totally predictable - even for non-writers. It puzzles me how a life and death story can be made so dull. The style sucks all the dramatic tension out. Drama should be dramatic.

Each episode has been a slight improvement on the previous one and it could get better but I think the concept is fundamentally flawed and I can't imagine this finding a UK buyer or enough viewers to justify a second season..


Anonymous said...

Love the soundtrack!!

Episode 1
In VJ's van: "Goin' Up The Country" by Canned Heat
End credits: "Sun Rise Light Flies" by Kasabian

Episode 2
In the surf tent: "Tic" by Kava Kava
End credits: "Staring At The Sun" by TV On The Radio -

Robin Kelly said...

That is a good thing about it, it's introduced me to new things as well as hearing old favourites.

On The 4400 a character developed a cult following where people did everything he said. He said TV On The Radio was now everyone's favourite band which I think is fair enough.