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DVD Review

DVD cover

John From Cincinnati
The Complete Series


Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Rebecca De Mornay, Austin Nichols, Ed O'Neill and Luke Perry
HBO Home Entertainment
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: 18
Available 20 July 2009

Set in the tired costal town of Imperial Beach, three generations of the Yosts live and are known as surfing royalty turned society misfits. Their reign and reputation, once defined in the curl of a perfect wave, have been eroded by years of bad luck, addiction and hubris. But just as things look like they can't get worse, a stranger named John arrives with a dark secret of his own that lifts the Yosts' banal existence into something profound, miraculous and possibly, universal...

John From Cinccinnati was cancelled after its first season and as such what we have here is the build up to what was supposed to be an ongoing series. The consequence is that the ending is left unresolved and I couldn't help feeling it was like reading a Miss Marple murder mystery which only introduces us to the characters and the situations and doesn't get to the meaty goodness, let alone give a hint at what on Earth is going on. It also tries a little too hard to be too cerebral.

Mitch is a one time legendary surfer who has become a shell of the man he used to be. His son, Butchie also a one time surfing star lives for nothing but his own drug addiction as his son Shaun is hailed as the next big Kahuna. As Mitch’s wife Cissy struggles to hold the family together, Mitch finds himself levitating off the ground after a surf... is it a hallucination, brain tumour, or something more perplexing all together?

Then out of the blue a young man called John appears who seems to be a little slow off the mark. He is quickly adopted by Butchie, but his parrot like behaviour is the first indication that things are not all they seem. As the series unfolds, the deeper meanings and realities of each character become apparent and the once welcoming locals begin to question John’s arrival after they fall victim to vast change. The tired costal town has officially received its awakening.

I doubt I'm actually spoiling anything here as none of the plot threads are actually really developed. But there are just too many Second Coming references thrown in for them to be coincidental.

Walking on water is obvious (with the whole surfing theme going on and Mitch levitating). Then there's "John from Cincinnati" which seems to mirror "Jesus of Nazareth" - no one refers to people as "name" from "place" these days. Raising the dead is another obvious reference, as is talking about his father's word. Also we learn that several of the main characters are new in town and seem to have arrived in Imperial Beach by chance as though drawn there to witness an unknown event - like those that were drawn to a stable in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, if you believe in that sort of thing. There's also the fact that John is able to provide everyone with visions and in one instance a group vision is created. And that's hardly begun to scratch the surface. I'll bet that when you boil down the main characters that have an effect on John's life there are 12 - as in the 12 disciples.

Sadly, the show takes itself way too seriously. Angst and madness is the order of the day here. In fact there's a handle of episodes were Cissy (played as close to the edge as you can go without making a fool of yourself by Rebecca De Mornay) just spends the entire time losing the plot for no good reason. The majority of the characters either talk to themselves or are scared of life, which more often than not manifests itself as anger.

It's a shame that the series got cancelled, as it's actually pretty entertaining in a Twin Peaks sort of way. I have to admit to not actually getting what on earth was going on with several of the plot threads (most notably Barry Cunningham, the new owner of the Snug Harbor Motel and Steady Freddie Lopez and Palaka the two drug dealers from Hawaii). But I'm assuming these were all set ups for future shows that never saw the light of day. But at least we got to see what on earth was going on in Bill Jacks's head and why that spiral staircase is so important.

Co-creator David Milch was also responsible for creating shows including NYPD Blue and Deadwood, so I was more than a little curious to hear on his audio commentary that he seems to be incredibly bitter. He almost sounds like someone who has never achieved anything in his life and constantly feels the need to lash out because people don't get his vision. Actually, while I'm on the subject of audio commentaries, don't bother listening to the two provided here. You'd probably be better off hanging around someone whose high on drugs rambling on about something they think is profound, when in actual fact they are actually debating the merits of a Mr Men book.

Extras include the aforementioned audio commentaries (one for the first episode and one for the last); and Decoding John: The Making of a Dream Sequence - Behind the Scenes of Episode Six (13 min, 33 sec raw camera footage of Milch waffling on to the cast about what the dream sequence is supposed to symbolise. However he just sounds like he's spouting bullsh*t - like a student who has cobbled together other peoples work and doesn't really understand what he's talking about).

As I mentioned earlier, it's a great shame that everything stops here as it was just starting to build to something. But, sadly, as a consequence it also means that it's a little pointless picking this up as it's a story with a beginning, but no middle or end. And with a show like this that's essential.


Darren Rea

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