Gone But Not Forgotten TV: John From Cincinnati
Gone But Not Forgotten is a new column at the House of Geekery where I will take a look back at TV shows that were cancelled way before their time.
Number of seasons: 1
John from Cincinnati is one of the coolest, weirdest, most confusing, most thought-provoking, under appreciated masterpieces I have ever seen.
This came about when co-creator David Milch (accalimed creator of NYPD Blue and Deadwood) was assigned by HBO to make a “surf” show because “the kids were into surfing.” Milch ended up creating a metaphysical journey of a down and out beach bum family and their motley crew of supporting players attracted by the strange occurrences that seem to coincide with the introduction of a strange man. Milch referred to it as a post-9/11 story. He posits that what if humanity had finally reached its most pathetic and God, or less specifically a divine entity with no denomination, decided that he needed to intervene.
This is where John comes in:
John (Austin Nichols) is essentially a representative of the divine. But instead of being some preachy evangelist, he comes back as a child. Or more accurately, he is an adult in appearance with a child’s mind. This innocence makes people trust him more than they would regularly a stranger and also makes him instantly likable. He knows what he needs to know, but he is far from omniscient. He has a message to give the people of the world, but it is cryptic within his own gibberish. As he learns the language of a new time, he assigns slang terms and phrases new meanings and his message can easily be lost since he should never be taken literally. He chooses a surfer to relay his message using 21st century media to promote it.
This is where the Yost family comes in:
Mitch Yost (Bruce Greenwood) is the patriach. He was a former surfing god when his career went down the drain after a particularly bad leg injury. Now, he surfs at the crack of dawn at a lonely part of the beach where no one can see him. He turned his back on the craft, but not on the art. His head is still in the clouds both figuratively (while chilling alone in his backyard clubhouse) and literally (as he begins floating 3 or so inches in the air).
His wife, Sissy (Rebecca DeMornay), is an emotional wreck. She desperately searches for meaning. She is constantly trying to make it right among her family members. Unfortunately, her stress has gotten the best of her, and she flies off the handle pushing her family away every time she tries to bring them together. She has her own demons, but she is trying to put them behind her.
Butchie Yost (Brian Van Holt) is their son. He was once a great surfer, but his bad boy image eventually evolved into a debilitating heroin addiction that alienated him from his entire family. John makes Butchie’s acquaintance first and remains his companion throughout the series. Butchie miraculously detoxes while around John, neither having a craving or feeling “dope-sick.” He is arguably the black mark that has facilitated every black mark the family has endured.
Shaun Yost (Greyson Fetcher) is the youngest member. He is Butchie’s son, but Butchie’s irresponsible behavior (as well as that of the boy’s mother) have placed custody in the hands of his grandparents (Mitch and Sissy). He wants to surf and has a real knack for it, but the mistakes of Mitch and Butchie shadow his decisions. He is easily the most innocent (outside of John that is) of the characters, and is most likely the chosen vehicle for John’s message.
The Yosts represent the worst of humanity. That seems pretty harsh, but it is more of a metaphor than an accusation. They were a once tightly knit family unit, but each members’ demons and addictions have driven a chasm between them, not unlike how any kind of authority (or organization that thinks it has authority) will build walls around individuals who may not agree. John shows them the errors of their ways as aggravatingly as pulling teeth with his overly cryptic speech.
The People of Imperial Beach
As an extension of John’s meddling for lack of a better word other non-affiliated members of the community gravitate towards the family and take an invested interest in the Yosts well-being. They are a Shakespearean group of supporting characters who’s comprehension of reality is as bad as their ability to explain what they are not comprehending. When they are not offering non sequitur comic relief, they are offering appendix information adding insight to the very confusing series of events, but more than occasionally in the form of slapstick and lucky guessing.
The series only lasted 1 season (10 episodes). And while it is officially unfinished and considered only the groundwork for more philosophical exploration and divine intervention, it still works as a self-contained story due to its abstract nature.