Friday, August 31, 2007

Surf's Up (and down)

David Milch’s Deadwood was HBO’s boutique offering, a wonderful side cart to the juggernaut that was The Sopranos, and a show mostly adored by its core fans and the nation's TV nitcrits. Deadwood was a sprawling, hard-to-define western, with a barrel full of colorful characters, a slow-to-go sense of story movement, all of it mixed and glued together by Milch’s language play, a halting, lilting, snaky, quasi-Shakespearean barrage of slang, obscenity, and flowery speech—a cadence as hypnotic as it was off-putting. Milch’s second outing for HBO, John From Cincinnati(full season available on HBO On Demand), is anchored around more of the same dialogue, albeit updated to California surf country, but still another onslaught of impenetrable squawking, inscrutable code words, high-falutin’ philosophical-speak coached in earthbound profanity, as irritating to some as it mesmerizing to others. The show, which just completed it's ten episode first season, centered around the Yosts (Bruce Greenwood, Rebecca De Mornay, Brian Van Holt) a fractured royal family of surfdom, and their golden boy, third generation surf prince Shaun (Greyson Fletcher). Into their volatile and largely sour mix comes the title character (Austin Nichols), a monosyllabic savant, who may be an angel, a looney tune, an alien messenger or, (gulp) the Son of God. The slice of California depicted is a mostly rotten one, a sun-drenched world of noir and misshapen spirituality (much of this derived from co-creator Ken Numm, the author of the seminal-surf-Zen-noir novel Tapping the Source), a world peopled by a passel of off center saints and sinners, including Vietnam Joe (Jim Beaver), ex-cop Bill Jacks (Ed O’Neill), Freddie the Hawaiian (Dayton Callie), filmmaker Cass (Emily Rose), café owner Jerri (Paula Malcomson), Doctor-in-flux Michael Smith (Garret Dillahunt), motel keeper Ramon (Luis Guzman), and surfing mogul Linc Stark (Luke Perry), among others (many of whom were Deadwood players). The series was despised by many as a pseudo, self-important metaphysical exploration of god knows what (no pun intended), yet I found myself captivated by its Godot-like situations and its haunted circle of causalities operating as characters. John From Cincinnati was a wonderfully immersive wooly and wild ride (with a perfectly evocative theme song taken from the late Joe Strummer), and once I clear my head I think I will go back and get wet again.

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