Tuned In

John from Cincinnati Watch: Perfect Parallelism

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I received three episodes of JFC for review, so at this point you’re caught up with me. If you’re still watching, which I realize is a big if.

Looking back at my notes, this is the point at which I threw up may hands over the plot, conceded that the show was confounding, self-indulgent and possibly a folly–and yet still wanted badly for the show to work, wanted some semblance of an organic story to emerge so that I could enjoy being in the presence of David Milch’s writing. (I realize that I sound exactly like all the Aaron Sorkin fans last fall willing themselves to believe that Studio 60 could be good. And yes, I do recognize the irony.) By episode 3, in fact, my notes are mainly one line of dialogue after another.

* Steady Freddy to Bill: “Retired cops don’t get my name, what time it is, or pissed on if they go up in flames.” Do you know what that is, my friend? That is a perfectly parallel construction!

* Mitch on competitions: “That’s not surfing… That’s flapping your fins for an audience. That’s letting dipsh_ts define you by numbers so other dipsh_ts can compare you to other numbers so other dipsh_ts know who to pay to wear their sunglasses so the dipsh_ts at the malls know which ones to buy.”

* Barry entering room 24 of the motel, where apparently his “deflowering” years ago involved the song “You Light Up My Life”: “Do you hear the dead man singing within, gentlemen? … I alone, then, am favored by that jovially croaking postcoital falsetto winsomely caricaturing Debby Boone?”

* And finally, Garret Dillahunt’s doctor on Seanie’s recovery: “Which brings us face to face with possibilities that I’ve been told deserve no more than a friendly pat on the head.”

Is this enough to keep me going? Because that’s all the series is giving me to this point. (That, and Butchie’s having transdermal horn implants in his head.) JFC frustrates me because it may be the most disappointing show on TV right now, and yet if it could develop a solid, character-driven story it could be the best show on TV right now. (Again, a big if.) So many moments–like Seanie skateboarding like a slacker angel at the end of the episode–probably would be as stunning and transcendent as Milch obviously means them to be, if only they had been earned, like the apocalyptic notes in Angels in America, by a believable narrative and characters.

For now, I feel like Kai, in her scene tonight with John: David Milch, like John, is telling me to “See God” and force-filling my head with visions. He wants me to feel the presence of the divine. But all I feel is perplexed and ready to pass out. Work with me, David. I want to believe.