Thursday, June 14, 2007

Baptism Of Water

As one show ended on HBO, another began. As night fell in New Jersey, the sun rose on Imperial Beach, California in David Milch’s new drama John from Cincinnati.

Ostensibly it’s about the three generations of the Yost family, in-fighting surfing legends and surfing legends in the making. Along with the peripheral supporting characters, most of whom have been out in the California sun for too long baking their brains, they’re the sort of troubled Southern Californian dynasty that Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer would be hired by/investigating, if they had a little more money in the bank.

Into there lives come John Monad, who may well be called John but comes from somewhere a lot further than Cincinnati. There’s something of a young Chance the Gardener about the titular character - which his surname suggests. In fact the show could probably have been named Being Out There. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to take a few more episodes to be able to describe what the show is about, and even that may be very optimistic.

It would certainly have been interesting to be on the other side of the table when Milch pitched the show. Having read co-creator Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source not long after it was published in the 1980s, I can see where some of it is coming from. Earlier in the year, appearing at the TCA Press Tour in Pasadena to promote John from Cincinnati, Milch explained the show to the assembled hacks thus:

“To my mind reality is a shifting and elusive condition. It redefines itself constantly. And which is to say that, when I was saying that this is a story that takes place on the margins of things, the attempt to identify the coordinates of reality is itself a kind of problematic and conditional effort. It's changing all the time.

“What constitutes -- where are we when we sleep? What is our sense of reality at that moment? It's, you know, science now suggests to us that what has been perceived as matter for a long time is, in fact, energy. That what looks solid, in fact, is constituted in waves, that Einstein's beautiful mathematical equations which depict the nature of reality don't apply at certain levels. And I think that's true as well about what constitutes the natural and the supernatural. You know, it depends on what foxhole you're in.”

After bringing up the psychologist and philosopher William James along with string theory in response to a question about where he drew his inspiration from, Milch ended with:

“What William James speculated was that there are what he called the lawless intrusions. He was fascinated by psychic phenomenon, and what James suggested was that whatever originated the universe, the Big Bang was a chaotic energy, which is now tending toward order. And that for the most part, we can account through certain theorems with all of the phenomena of our experience, but that there are certain abrupt and lawless inexplicable intrusions through essentially what would be described as tears in the fabric of the dimensions we perceive – [hence] John from Cincinnati.”

So there you go.

Maybe a clue is in the song that accompanies another excellent HBO-drama title sequence – an edit of Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros’ Johnny Appleseed:

If you're after getting the honey - hey
Then you don't go killing all the bees

Or maybe not.

Would I trade it for a fourth season of Deadwood, which Milch accidentally sounded the death knell for once he pitched the new show? Probably, but with Milch behind the wheel, however far beyond the crazy line John from Cincinnati goes it’s still a show I’m happy to float along with.


At 11:54 am, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

As far as him quoting what “science now suggests”, that’s good evidence for some writers either doing some more research or shutting the f**k up about things they demonstrably know nothing about. Wow, that was really a bunch of addle-headed piffle. Right up there with the “every atom could be an entire universe” sort of rubbish. :-O

The William James stuff’s even more bilge, but hey, that sort of stuff catches on in the US, doesn’t it? “And that for the most part, we can account through certain theorems with all of the phenomena of our experience” is just the sort of “I’m going to state this as a fact without any backup whatsoever, couch it in pseudo-scientific language then you won’t have a chance to contradict me” stuff that astrology and homeopathy are based on. Ugh.

It reads a lot like that utterly ridiculous speech The Architect gave in the second Matrix movie. Say ‘ergo’ a few times and ooh, doesn’t it sound intellectual? ;-)

Still, the man Milch writes superlative shows indeed, which I’m more than happy to watch. If he bases them on claptrap, but produces good work, then let him believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden for all that it matters.

He might want to stop telling people about it though. Hehehe...

At 12:37 pm, Blogger Lee said...

Sounds like a lot of good sense to me, but then I spent all my formative years reading Phil Dick, Grant Morrison and Alan Moore.

It's the sort of thing Milch has been bringing up in interviews for years, but never addressed directly in his shows.

I'm going to love this series.

At 1:22 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

It may be bilge, but when American programme-makers deal in pseudo-science they head off into some philosophically interesting directions.

When Brits do it, we end up with creatures with monocular vision and brains on the outside of their heads.

At 1:57 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Jaded, as I said, if he uses bilge to produce great shows, then I’m all for it. Doesn’t stop it being bilge, though.

And yes, we end up with Doctor Who. Space Rhinos all round! ;-)

At 3:43 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

To understand what psychologists and philosophers were really getting at you should look here.


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