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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

the brother from another Cincinnati

[Update: I have since changed my mind about this dreadful, humourless show. I would say more, but it's not worth the words.]

It has been a while since I saw John Sayles's film The Brother from Another Planet (1984), but there's no mistaking it as a primary source for the new HBO series John from Cincinnati. (JC, get it?) If there was any doubt, a line in episode 2 referring to John as a 'brother from another mother' provides suggestive corroborating evidence.

In the film, Joe Morton plays an alien who arrives in New York, where he is distinguished from the human beings by his muteness, his three-toed feet, and his ability to heal broken arcade games by touching them. On the HBO show, John sports a 1980's hairdo and wardrobe, including Sean Penn's classic shoes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. At his arrival, various people and even a bird mysteriously wield the power of reviving the dead or healing grave bodily injuries. John's mission appears to be to heal the family of broken surfers and their supporting characters.

The great thing about the series so far, four episodes in, is that it is full of mystery with scant expositional help. In fact, there is virtually no exposition despite a steadily growing number of characters. The show does not go out of its way to be likable either. It feels more like a late season of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, where multiple plots run simultaneously and new viewers can't possibly be expected to know what's going on, except that John from Cincinnati is that way right out of the gate. The show is apparently generating negative buzz on the internet, but I am already looking forward to each new episode.

I realize that HBO is expensive, but people who care about culture owe it to themselves to subscribe. The past ten years of HBO original series have been a true golden age of television. There has never before been serial screenwriting with such sophistication as one encounters on the typical HBO show. I hate to parrot corporate slogans, but, compared to everything else out there, they're justified in denying that their work is mere TV. No, reader, it's HBO.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite show of the summer. The story line of how people would react to the Second Coming & how the Messiah would use modern means to get his message out(logos on tee shirts and a talent manager) was pure genius.


1:51 AM, August 28, 2007

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

The Messiah's wisdom might be too profound for common people to comprehend, but he would presumably be articulate.

At first I thought that John from Cincinnati was experimental. Then I realized it was just bad. Not front-loading the series with too much exposition seemed like a good thing. Not providing any background information about the characters after an entire season was not such a good thing. There were three female characters: a relentlessly screaming shrew, a self-sacrificing martyr, and, literally, a porn-star prostitute. But the show's biggest offense was its utter lack of wit. Alan Ball of Six Feet Under understood that a show about fucked-up people hurting themselves and each other has to be leavened with copious wit. David Milch would not know wit if a space-alien messiah came down in the Mothership and hit him upside the head with it.

The show was so bad that I have crossed Deadwood, the creator's other series, off my list of things to watch.

2:28 PM, August 28, 2007


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