John From Cincinatti
It’s official- the last thing I was expecting from Deadwood creator David Milch was a paranormal surfing saga, but this appears to be exactly what we’ve gotten. John From Cincinatti has left a wide variety of reviewers cold, and it’s no surprise as it’s certainly not a series that’s keen to place its cards on the table. Following three generations of the Yost family, the story’s main catalyst is a mysterious (and occasionally annoying) bequiffed young man called John, who doesn’t seem to have a personality, only reflecting back whatever’s said to him, and also seems possessed of certain paranormal powers. He’s able to produce whatever he needs from his pockets, whether it’s money or a cellphone, while he’s soon setting off spontaneous levitations and bird-ressurections wherever he goes. As in Deadwood, there’s a fantastic sense of both character and place, as if we’re simply looking in on a fully functional and believable universe, while the slow pacing and aggressively realist style means that the occasional bursts of oddness have much more impact. The easiest comparison at the moment seems to be the movie Big Wednesday crossed with Carnivale, but I’ve got to hope that the story doesn’t move at Carnivale’s frustrating snail’s pace, and actually answers its questions, while there’s a little concern thanks to some of the more overtly theatrical characters- especially the gay, gun-wielding hotel owner, who seemed to have wondered in from a completely different show. It’ll be interesting seeing how it evolves– Deadwood only really settled in for me once it eased back a little on the gut-wrenching violence and allowed the characters room to be human, and it’s certain that John From Cincinatti is going to be in desperate need of some kind of story momentum. A certain amount of drifting can be described as ‘charming’– too much, and it’ll verge into boredom. While not yet completely seduced, I’m interested enough to find out where it’s going.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
If there’s one show that’s been consistently frustrating throughout the last season of US TV, it’s been Studio 60. Aaron Sorkin’s return to TV was hyped to epic proportions, but fell flat in the ratings– and considering the rollercoaster of quality we’ve been on, it’s no surprise why. At heart, the one element that’s prevented Studio 60 is simply that it’s a paper-thin premise that would have been fine for a variety of ‘Let’s put the show on here’ riffs, and was arguably at its strongest when concentrating purely on the mechanics of live television and corporate America (particularly any scenes involving Steven Weber as Jack Rudolph, who’s ended up the most consistently interesting character in the show). What it isn’t up to is supporting Sorkin’s soap-box preaching about the War, Republicanism, the Religious Right, Black Politics, and anything else he could seemingly think of– subjects that managed to blend in with The West Wing, but trip up the feather-weight nature of the show here. What’s worse is that it never really feels like Sorkin is interested in having a debate- all he wants to do is point out what he thinks is wrong, while simultaneously proving that he’s completely hopeless at writing sketch comedy. The fantastic cast have kept it watchable, and few people can write fast-patter back-and-forth dialogue as well as Sorkin, but the lack of a second season really didn’t come as any surprise, and my hope was that, at the least, the show would come back with a final six episodes which would end on a high, especially since it had already managed to deliver a couple of genuinely impressive hours, especially episode 15 with Matt’s descent into addiction. Imagine my surprise, then, when Studio 60 decided to come back from its lengthy hiatus with its worst episode ever– the toe-curlingly awful ‘The Disaster Show’– and then leap straight into a slightly misjudged ‘hostage in Afghanistan’ plotline that’s allowing the show to revel in its worst excesses. At its best, the last few episodes have been little more than glossy soap opera, and at their worst, they’ve been Aaron Sorkin hammering the point home until all we’d like him to do is keep quiet. I really wanted to like Studio 60– I just wish Sorkin hadn’t made it so damned difficult.