Gone Too Soon: John From Cincinnati


2007 –  One season of Spiritualism, Transcendence, and Pure WTF sauce.

David Milch is a curious show creator. He is most famously known for his HBO series Deadwood, Luck, and ABC’s NYPD Blue. One of his most ambitious series, that was never much appreciated in its time, and even outright loathed by many, was John From Cincinnati. It only had one season, and its first episode debuted with a huge lead in from The Sopranos Finale. This may or may not have hurt its chances right from the outset, as many Sopranos fans were upset by that shows controversial ending, and were not ready at all for the slow-paced, heady, and very confusing pilot that was John From Cincinnati. Even I’ll admit, its pilot, while intriguing, wasn’t necessarily good. It was the definition of what you’d call a rocky start, and was really coasting on its Milchian pedigree.

John From Cincinnati is about a famous family of surfers, who all befriend a mysterious stranger named John. The Yost family are all highly dysfunctional, and barely stand each other. Mitch Yost, the elder and most famous surfer is overbearing, self-centered and distant from his wife Cissy, and his own son Butchie. Butchie is a formerly famous surfer too, now washed up and addicted to drugs. The only thing keeping them together is Butchie’s son, Shaun Yost, a surfing/skating prodigy, who is in the custody of  Cissy and Mitch. All of them harbor deep psychological issues and baggage they are holding onto, be it guilt, regret or some unfulfilled promise. John’s presence, the moment he enters their lives, slowly begins to change that, in ways they never could have predicted, and in ways that nobody could possibly understand at first. It’s these changes we first see, with Mitch Yost, ironically and literally floating inches into the air, mysteriously hovering, against his own will. These changes continue, with Butchie, the previously mentioned drug addict, who has gone broke, and can no longer afford his fix, but finds himself not suffering heroin withdrawal. John himself is a simple looking, plain clothed man in his early 20’s who has a habit of parroting speech back at whoever speaks to him, but still manages to communicate with intonation, body language, and the select few original words he speaks, all with a sense of gravitas and meaning to them that is mystifying and entirely logical at the same time. Now that’s just the Yost family, and John continues to help and change every single person who comes into contact with him. The show features a huge ensemble cast of characters, all with their own unique problems that John, in turn, one by one, begins to help in his own special way.

It’s a show that is nearly impossible to sum up in a single sentence, but in my many attempts to tell people why the show is great, I’ve found a way to effectively communicate what the show is about, and what its audience should expect to get from watching it. JFC is about transcendence. It’s about very real, very damaged characters, with borderline unsolvable personal issues, finding the means to heal themselves, mentally and sometimes physically, with the very presence of John arriving. He is a conduit to our own self discovery, and shows us, literally with our own words, the way to a new level of being. The shows title sequence alone hints at its spiritual and extraterrestrial nature.

The show also has an amazing soundtrack.

In no way am I a spiritual person, in fact, I am just the opposite, but I’d recommend it to anybody who would be willing to watch it past episode 2, (titled, ‘His Visit, Day Two’), and tell me they are not the slightest bit intrigued as to what happens next. It is simultaneously arresting and obtuse, confusing and entirely logical, difficult and intuitive, and it is not in any way a simple show. It is not a show that you can kick back and relax to watch. It demands your attention, it demands your thought, and most of all it demands you reflect on it’s meaning.It demands you find your own issues that are plaguing you, to question them yourself, and to assess your life’s amount of baggage, and judge if it is necessary to still carry it. It’s a show that is NOT for everyone, as many will watch it and just be confused, or see it as a meaningless David Lynch style ripoff. For those willing to give it a chance, it just might literally change your life. It’s not a perfect show by any means, but it IS an important one.

I can only hope reading this has made you want to watch it, because something like it doesn’t come along too often, and I’d argue that out of all the brilliant television David Milch has made, it is his personal best.

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