So here's what I've been able to piece together after the first jaw-droppingly impenetrable hour of John From Cincinnati, HBO's attempt to keep all you Sopranos viewers from shuffling off to Showtime...uh...
I'm going to need a minute here. Sorry.
OK, so there's a surfing clan called the Yosts living in the border-hugging city of Imperial Beach. Head of the family Mitch was a big deal in surfing back in the day (back in the day being the 1960s, apparently) until a knee injury ended his pro career. He thinks he has brain cancer, which is an understandable diagnosis given his propensity to inexplicably levitate every now and again. No, I did not just invent that sentence to see if you are paying attention.
Mitch is married to Cissy, who at this early stage in the show appears to be a bit of a shrill nag. Their son is Butchie, who became a big, big star on the surfing scene and an even bigger heroin addict. That's why Butchie's son, Shaun, now lives with Grandma and Grandpa. Cissy is pushing to have Shaun enter surfing competitions; Mitch is opposed on account of his smack-addled son and all. Cissy accedes to Mitch's wishes, but only until he leaves the room; then she bundles Shaun off to a neighbor's to drive him to the competition. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for that flat tire and her arrest at the local bulk warehouse store.
That leaves us with John -- mysterious, annoying John. He shows up at the beach one day, saying "The end is near," and then spends the rest of the episode repeating whatever anyone else says back to them. Oh, and he can pull things magically out of his pockets if you ask him -- money, credit cards, and so forth. Maybe someone should ask him for a comprehensible narrative.
All that plus a surfing lawyer, a gun-toting lottery winner, Al Bundy as an addled ex-cop, and Dylan McKay as an oily agent. Weird show you're on there, bro.
Our show begins with Andy Travis, hotshot programming director, walking into the studios of WKRP where Johnny Sunshine is busy broadcasting easy-listening standards. Ah, but Travis -- that magnificent, wavy-haired bastard -- has a plan: change the station's format to rock 'n' roll, bring in Venus Flytrap to handle the nighttime DJ duties, and sweet-talk Mr. Carlson into... hmmmm? What do you mean? Well, I better check that assignment letter from Wing Chun a little bit more closely, huh? Let's see here...ah, here it is, clear as day: Cincinnati. Who from Cincinnati, now? Oh. I see. Well, that's an entirely different show.
Y'all please excuse me while I head over to HBO On Demand.
Our show begins with blue ocean, grainy surfer footage, and the strains of Joe Strummer. Oh, and there's some shots of the border. Maybe I've TiVo'd Lou Dobbs's show on CNN by mistake.
Nope, this is definitely an HBO show. Know how I can tell? The foul-mouthed cowboys? The unsatisfying series wrap-ups? The smug "It's not TV; it's HBO!" tagline? Good guesses all. But it's the fact that a Lincoln Despoiler just pulled up to a beach somewhere, and Luke Perry jumped out. Luke Perry -- your former teen-soap actor of choice for HBO dramas since 2001. Who'd have thought when Beverly Hills 90210 first roamed the airwaves like a mighty thunder lizard that Dylan McKay would grow up to be a respected ensemble player in critically acclaimed pay-cable shows and that Steve Sanders would win America's hearts and minds on a competitive reality show? Okay, I guess that second thing was fairly predictable. But still, Dylan should be very proud of himself. Prouder than you, Gabrielle Carteris!
So anyhow, Dylan's at the beach, watching with a mixture of admiration and resignation while some guy -- as yet unknown -- catches a wave. All of a sudden, Morrissey strolls up behind him. Well, not Morrissey, exactly -- he seems a little bit too happy to be Morrissey. But he certainly looks like Morrissey. Maybe he's in some sort of upbeat Smiths tribute band -- if he breaks into a swingin' version of "How Soon Is Now?" we'll know for sure. But he doesn't; instead, he says, "The end is near." "Amen, my brother," Dylan McKay responds, only in a slightly patronizing way, while noting the illegal immigrants scurrying to do the jobs that the rest of us won't in the background. So I guess this is near San Diego, then, since the surfing around Ciudad Juarez is not particularly choice.