Wednesday, June 13, 2007

John From Cincinnati Part 1

I don't get it. Yet. But I'm willing to invest some time and effort because after all this is David Milch.

Half a dozen scenes into my first viewing of the pilot for John from Cincinnati, written by David Milch and Kem Nunn, I put down my pen and paper and decided to just try to absorb the show. And it's going to take me quite a few more viewings to truly make sense of it structurally, thematically, storywise.

If this were an episode of a show on a conventional network, I believe the first six scenes would be the teaser. But this HBO and there are no commercial breaks to guide my breakdown. These first few scenes amazingly well-crafted. You meet most of the main players, learn a great deal about the storylines and themes that will presumably run through the series and never feel like you're getting back story. I hope to break down the whole show, but until I do, here are my thoughts on the opening sequence.

John from Cincinnati begins with the titles. Once they are out of the way, it's strictly story without interruption till the closing credits

The opening shot is the headlights of an SUV as it moves through low scrubby hills toward us. Linc (Luke Perry) gets out and walks toward the beach. In the distance we see Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood) surfing. Linc continues down the beach, John (Austin Nichols) appears behind him and utters the first line of dialogue for the entire series: "The end is near." Something tells me we've just been alerted to a major theme.

"Hey man, my brother," replies Linc, pointing out a number of people running past in the distance, "those illegals act like it's another day at the beach." What does this tell us? That we're near the Mexican border, yes. But I suspect the line and the immigrants are present to put us in the mind of the word "aliens" and maybe we're supposed to associate said word with John.

Mitch, done surfing, comes up the beach, board under his arm. (Is this the moment to mention Bruce Greenwood's six pack? He definitely looks every inch the aging surfer dude.)

John starts heading toward Mitch. Linc is amazed that he knows him. John replies that "Mitch Yost should get back in the game." And repeats almost the same words in a slightly different order to Mitch. Mitch and Linc think the game John is referring to is competitive surfing. We know better. Linc has already cottoned on to the fact that John is unusual because he's making finger circles at his temple to let Mitch know that John is a whack job.

We're just a minute and a half into the episode, but the question has already been raised, is John an alien or insane? So it's time for the writers give us some information about Mitch. That comes with his first lines. To John: "You should mind your own business." And to Linc, before Linc has said a word to Mitch, "Go fuck yourself." (The first "fuck" of the series, by the way, with many many to follow in this episode, at least. Milch hasn't lost any affection for the F-word since the demise of Deadwood.)

As Mitch walks away, Linc turns to John. Just in case John isn't crazy, he warns him to "stay away from the kid", threatening him with harm if he interferes with the deal in progress.

Scene one is two minutes long and we already know a lot. There's a mystery guy (John) who might be crazy or who might be from some place other than earth. We know Mitch is a bitter former surfer and that he and Linc have a history. And we know there's a kid and deal in the making.

Scene two is less deft and information packed. Cissy Yost (Rebecca De Mornay) standing on a pier watching Shaun Yost (Greyson Fletcher) surfing. He must be the kid in question. She calls to a girl running toward the water with her board to tell Shaun to stop by the store later, offering the girl a free bottle of wax for delivering the message. So, Cissy owns a store, presumably a surfing store since she carries a kind of wax that would interest a girl with a surf board. Cissy heads off and a mystery blonde woman moves into her spot to watch Shaun as he waits for the next waves.

Now we go back to the beach. Mitch is heading for his car with Linc at his side making his pitch. Mitch finds a syringe on the ground, picks it up, looks at it with disgust. It could be Butchie's. Mitch simultaneously blames and forgives Linc for Butchie's drug problems with this clever line: "Now he's proven to the world he can fuckup just fine without a sponsor." Several things fall into place: Linc represents sponsors and the source of the tension (or at least part of the tension) between Mitch and Linc is Butchie's drug use.

Linc wants to know if Mitch is going to Huntington to watch his grandson surf. Mitch didn't know the kid was planning to compete, but he won't let him and he won't let Linc "get your fangs in his neck like you did to Butchie." That's when Linc pulls out the DVD that Shaun sent him. The words "Sponsor Me" are scrawled across the front. Linc says, it's going to happen whether Mitch wants it or not. Shaun wants to get signed, he's the real deal and he's a Yost.

Linc's parting words: "Trust the devil you know, Mitch." And now, we know about Linc, he's the devil -- a mundane, nice guy sort of devil or at least the incarnation of commercialism in the surfing world; the guy who signs you. No wonder he drives the big black truck.

Now it's time to meet a few other characters. Outside a very run down motel, Meyer (Willie Garson) is handing up a sold sign as Ramon (Luis Guzman) watches. Meyer doesn't think the new owner is a very pleasant person.

We meet Butchie through his off-screen cry of "mother-fucker" before we see him. It seems Meyer's got him stashed rent free in this derelict motel because Meyer is a huge fan ("Butchie Yost revolutionized surfing, Ramon. He changed the entire idea of it.") Ramon thinks Butchie should be gone before the new owner shows up.

Butchie meanwhile is trying to push his beat up Volkswagen van. Meyer and Ramon attempt to corner him to discuss his moving out but Butchie ducks into his motel room claiming that he needs to take a "horrendous dump."

While Meyer pleads Butchie's case to Ramon, Ramon leads Meyer over to a huge pile of trash. He wants the lawyer's help in cleaning it up before the new owner arrives. Me thinks these two are the cleanup crew.

Meanwhile, inside his filthy motel room, Butchie Yost shoots up.

Back at the beach, Mitch stows his board in his car and takes out a big jug of fresh water. He pours the water over his head to wash away the salt. And then something strange happens. He lifts off. He looks down at his feet. They are a few inches above the ground. There he is, next to his old paneled station wagon, hanging in mid-air.

And that is where I would have put the act break to end a great tease. We're six and half minutes in and we've met some incredibly memorable characters and gotten a lot of back story effortlessly. We've got a pretty good idea that the show is not going to fit nicely into any genre. And I for one, was ready to commit to the full hour.

1 comment:

Kazza said...

Love that you're doing this. Thanks for filling the void.