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TIT

'John from Cincinnati - The Complete First Season'
(Bruce Greenwood, Brian Van Holt, Greyson Fletcher, Rebecca De Mornay, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / (2007) 2008 / HBO Home Video)

Overview: Just north of the border in the tired coastal town of Imperial Beach CA live three generations of Yosts: surfing royalty turned society misfits. The Yost's reign and reputation once defined in the cure of a perfect wave has been eroded by years of bad luck addiction and hubris. But just as things are looking like they can't get worse a stranger named John arrives - and the Yost's banal existence is lifted into something profound miraculous and possibly universal.

DVD Verdict: It's unfortunate that the term "groundbreaking" when it comes to television series seems to equate only to pushing the boundaries of sex and violence. "John From Cincinnati" broke new ground in narrative style and tackling the difficult topic of our collective subjective experiences that looked from the outside to be a simplistic family drama about surfing. It is definitely much more than that.

"John From Cincinnati" plays more like a fable than a realistic drama whose characters are simultaneously over-the-top caricatures and profoundly human. They encompass our irrational fears, damaging anger, tendency to cling to the past, and our desire to escape from it and change. These characters ARE us, and we look at them both in their specific niche and set against the tableau of the history of our species' existence ("big and huge" as John describes).

At the center of this is John who is less of an actual character and more of a personification of that which connects us and our own naiveté. He is a narrative device analogous to a Greek chorus. He serves as a reflection of a character's innermost thoughts and desires and strives to connect them to each other. He even literally does this as he imitates them. He stands apart from the rest of the cast to comment on them in his own bizarre way.

The writing is rich in its language and subtle humor. We aren't treated to immediate gratification either (and even the finale creates more mystery than it solves which is unfortunate in this case). Certainly airing immediately after the finale of "The Sopranos" when no one was watching handicapped such a series where continuity is significant. It takes several episodes to hit its full stride, but it does reward the dedicated viewer, gradually shedding light on previous events.

Milch's work on the early seasons of "NYPD Blue" and on "Deadwood" especially is brilliant, and "John From Cincinnati" is no exception in its own, very unique way. This is truly experimental, groundbreaking, underrated television for those willing to put forth the effort to read between the lines and immerse themselves in the lives of these disparate characters.

In closing, "John From Cincinnati" is a strange, fascinating, mystifying, and frustrating program all wrapped up into one carefully packaged mess, "John From Cincinnati" certainly wins some points in the originality department. Who knows where it could have gone had it been permitted to continue? The answer would undoubtedly prove interesting, but all we are ever likely to have is this rather open-ended season. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.66:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Audio Commentaries by David Milch on the first and last episodes of the series
13-minute Featurette where David Milch communicates the meaning behind John's dream sequence/sermon in episode six to the cast

www.HBO.com





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