Idol Chatter

John-_idol.jpgTo paraphrase the titular character, “Some things I know, and some things I do’’t know. But I know that I won’t be watching this show again.”
Unlike fellow blogger Valerie Reiss, I didn’t have the benefit of multiple advance copies of HBO’s new series, “John From Cincinnati,” (a spiritual portrayal of the surfing culture in San Diego) so I am only able to base my opinion on the premiere. But one thing is certain, I don’t quite see the “potential” she does. Give me a premiere with real, kinetic energy like “Rome,” that captures my attention and has me sitting through the entire first season in one long afternoon, not “potential.”
Instead of a young “Johnny Depp,” I instantly pegged the character J.C. as a John Mayer look-a-like, idiot-savant who’s able to pull things out of his pockets a la Captain Caveman–reaching into his khaki-covered caverns and pulling out precisely what is needed at that moment. Yes, John acts as a sort of “Zen mirror,” for the characters, but I saw him more as the id who facilitates what would be internal conversations, but externally. He plants suggestions with his Elmo-esque gibberish and pigeon-like head movements, so that the Yost family (the surfing family around which this show centers) can teach themselves and learn invaluable life lessons.
“It’s a testament to both the writers and actor that this is more fascinating than annoying to watch,” writes Valerie. I just found it annoying. New age twee.

Where’s the originality, the innovation for which HBO is known? An oft-times mono-syllabic, messiah-esque mysterious stranger comes to town and helps people rediscover their bliss. That could be a half dozen movies, if not more: “Starman,” “K-Pax,” or “Being There” with Peter Sellers. Perhaps centering it around a surfing family imbues it with an interest that I just don’t see, as I grew up far from any coastline–waves of grain are my surf.
The story arcs are as choppy as the waters, involving threads of vengeance by a gay, lotto-winning multimillionaire, a Jewish lawyer who surfs and worships the Yost family, and a hyper-vigilant, seemingly shell-shocked ex-police officer. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly saying, “It’s a character circus, or character assembly–putting a bunch of overly quirky characters in a setting to throw them into arbitrary conflicts eked out of their eccentricities for purposes of eliciting a moral lesson.” Right on, dude!
The only reason I would give “John” another go is the remarkable cast: Bruce Greenwood (the patriarch of the surfing family), in particular. In the premiere, much of Brain Van Holt’s (addict son Butchie) acting consists of flailing arms and screaming into a cell phone. Even Rebecca De Mornay’s performance (the matriarch of the Yost family) lacks nuance at times and comes across as shrill. But Greenwood is solid. And, even though I find it ridiculous that this accomplished Quebecois actor is spouting out surf-jargon, in the end, it may be Greenwood that saves “John” and not the other way around.

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