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A CHALLENGING ODDITY
on 20 August 2013
California's surfing Josts have fallen on bad times, the family in danger of tearing itself apart. Can young Shaun's skills on the waves revive the acclaim father and grandfather used to enjoy? There are sharp divisions, though, on whether he should be allowed to proceed.
Enter John, mystery man. He seems like a novice angel, despatched (somewhat prematurely) from on high to do good. Those he meets are puzzled by his lack of social skills, his main means of communication repetition of words he has heard (which, in fact, often works surprisingly well).
Slowly but surely THINGS begin to happen, ranging from the strange to the positively miraculous.
Austin Nicholls as John is the main reason to watch, there about him a beguiling innocence. Other performances are also enjoyable, including the mobsters increasingly out of their depth. A major drawback, however, concerns some of the key characters. They are so hard to like, that grandmother especially. The 18 rating is presumably because of their expletives, which many viewers may feel do the series no favours.
Another barrier to enjoyment is the deliberate obscurity, which some may call pretentiousness. Check out the "Decoding John" bonus on Episode 6, creator David Milch attempting to explain to the cast the thinking behind some of the lines they are expected to say. Those around him seem bemused. If they find it hard to understand, what hope for most viewers?
I wanted to like the show far more than I did, but felt it trying to be too clever for its own good. Clearly the series has its strong admirers, they detecting in it matters most mystical and positively wondrous. Others may feel the best has not been made of the undoubted talents involved.
Critics are thus divided, but there is one point on which they can agree. In no way can "John from Cincinnati" be regarded as bland.