Friday, July 6, 2007

The most fucked up hour of television ever.

I finally got around to catching up with John From Cincinnati, HBO's new "surf noir" drama on Sundays. I set up a season pass for it on the Tivo, knowing only a few things about it. It was HBO's new drama, and those are generally worth checking out. It was created and written by David Milch, of dear, departed Deadwood fame. Summer is generally the time when the new television slate is bankrupt of ideas and plastered with reality stool samples, so new and different things are worth checking out.

That said, I never got around to watching JFC for some reason. Maybe it was Sopranos hangover, maybe it was the ongoing drama in real life. Perhaps it was the perplexing reviews I read that ranged from "brilliant!" to "impenetrable!" to "what the fuck?!" Anyway, I was bored on the 4th and finally started watching. Four hours later, I'm hooked. Though I have to agree with those three quotes. I mean, really:

  • A three generation surfing clan.
  • Quasi-Shakespearean dialogue laced with colorful vulgarity.
  • A mysterious stranger that spouts zen like non-sequiters and repeats whatever he hears. And has "magical pockets" in his pants that produce cash and credit cards. And heals others from fatal injuries. And heals himself.
  • Zippy the parrot, who also apparently has healing powers.
  • Surfing patriarchs that suddenly start to levitate three feet off the ground.
  • Sex that makes you "see god," but without the sex.
  • Luke Perry as a scheming, surf marketing mogul.
  • A gay lottery winner, apparently the victim of some abuse, who may or may not see ghosts in a specific hotel room, who buys the local surf hotel.
  • A sometimes kind hearted Hawaiian heroin dealer and his unbelievably dimwitted sidekick.

If that sounds "wacky," you don't know the half of it. This is without a doubt the most fucked up television series I've ever seen. I still don't know what the hell is going on, but I'm compelled to watch. It has fantastic performances from the entire cast, and of course, the trademark dialogue that dazzles and mystifies from David Milch. But I still cannot fathom exactly what the hell it's all about. There are the obvious religious metaphors, and it certainly has its share of mystical shenanigans. I don't even know how to describe it, other than to say it's a glorious, fascinating trainwreck -- and I mean that in a good way -- of epic proportions.

It's easy to "punish" JFC in the larger context of HBO. It's certainly not a "replacement" for HBO's signature show The Sopranos. Many folks, me included, still hold a grudge that Milch "left" Deadwood to create JFC. But if you take those issues out, you're left with a curious, bewildering yet strongly compelling and brilliantly crafted hour of television.

Yes, I'll miss Tone and Carm, and Bullock and Al. But I'm watching Mitch, John, Butchie and Zippy the parrot, too.

Speaking of Deadwood, JFC has featured some of the actors from that all time great, among others of note.

Garret Dillahunt is Doc Smith, who diagnosed the youngest Yost with a broken neck and brain death, only to see his patient completely healed by a kiss from Zippy. The parrot. Dillahunt played not one, but two, beautifully realized psychopaths on Deadwood (Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott). Last year, he was Matthew on The 4400.
Austin Nichols is the titular John. He also played Morgan Earp on Deadwood.
Dayton Callie is Steady Freddie, the drug dealer. He was stalwart Charlie Utter on Deadwood, and also recently played the adopted father of the miniature killer on CSI: Original Recipe.
Jim Beaver is Vietnam Joe, who found John originally. Beaver played the long suffering Ellsworth on Deadwood.
Stephen Tobolowsky is a lawyer or administrator from the hospital where Smith works, and played Hugo Jarry on Deadwood.

Others on JFC:
Brian Van Holt is the middle Yost, Butchie. I recall him from the Carla Gugino sci-fi show Threshold, where he was a wooden government agent. Here, he's terrific as the drug addled ne'er do well.
Matt Winston is the disturbed new hotel owner. I remember him as the annoying Daniels from Enterprise.
Paul Ben-Victor is Palaka, the dim-bulb sidekick for Freddie. He was the truck driver in recently in Drive, as well as studio head Allen Grey in Entourage.
Willie Garson is the "surf attorney." He's widely known as gay friend Stanford on estrogen/martini fest Sex and the City, but I also recongize him as extraterrestrial/TV and movie producer Martin Lloyd on Stargate SG-1.

The show also prominently features Rebecca DeMornay as the Yost matriarch, Luis Guzman as the hotel manager, and Ed O'Neill as ex-cop and friend of the family Bill. Who owns Zippy the parrot.

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