Resting transparent in the spirit which gave him rise.
May 7, 2010 10:06 PM   Subscribe

David Milch, creator of Deadwood, John From Cincinnati, and NYPD Blue reads from Luck, his Michael Mann-directed upcoming show for HBO. Following the reading there's a Q&A. (mp3)
posted by dobbs (26 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Deadwood and Michael Mann, yes, please.
posted by Huck500 at 10:15 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd have to agree. The combination of Mann and Milch is both ready for a bad pun, and able to make some good TV.
posted by 517 at 10:53 PM on May 7, 2010

Let me just say: it seemed to me that John from Cincinnati was vastly underrated. Deadwood was good, but it was weighted down by its gimmick, which frankly Milch's writing transcended nearly from the beginning; the entire old west think seemed pretty lame to me before long. John from Cincinnati didn't have the same problem, and ended up pretty transcendental.
posted by koeselitz at 11:02 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I love JFC but disagree that Deadwood was gimmicky. Deadwood is easily my favorite television show eer and is also among my favorite stories in any medium. I would love to see his Johns Hopkins thing get done--he speaks about it more extensively here, which is also where I took the title of the post from.

Recently, Milch's personal assistant gave me some transcripts of a series of lectures he gave--which are mentioned in this article, and which I haven't found online. If Milch permits it, I'll post them on my site. I find his speeches and talks fascinating and inspirational on many levels.
posted by dobbs at 11:29 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

David Milch writes in formula and uses game theory predictably. And it's nearly perfect every time somehow. I've been watching his work for years and years and I think I know a bit of how he keeps his boilerplate shiny.

Junie Lowry-Johnson.

She, or her organization casts cliched characters absolutely flawlessly. I hope one day she gets the credit that is due.
posted by vapidave at 11:57 PM on May 7, 2010

John from Cincinnati was vastly underrated

Amen. What an amazing, challenging, fascinating show; my roommate and I were so pissed when HBO didn't renew it for a 2nd season; I gave up HBO and haven't gone back since. I'll never forgive mainstream TV critics for panning it (I remember the New Yorker was particularly savage right at the start). I mean, here's this odd, new style of TV storytelling, really taking some chances and giving jaded watchers something unusual to chew on, and the only thing critics can think of is to slam it for not being straightforward enough. Jesus. We were so pissed.
posted by mediareport at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2010

Milch has been working on Luck in one form or another for a long time, and I'm so glad to see he's found a way to work it final form. I read the pilot script a while back and it's both (1) very Milch and (2) not Deadwood, so the usual complaints will apply from the usual folks.

John from Cincinnati was an astonishing piece of work but hard to categorize, predict, or map onto other contemporary TV shows. For one thing, it's an extremely optimistic show; its plot is 'God figures 9/11 is just the beginning of these idiots destroying themselves, so he sends an autistic Jesus to visit some junkies and washouts in a surfing town to give them helpful don't-destroy-yourself advice.' Its story, meanwhile, involves said washouts and junkies accommodating divine experience and discovering their own interdependence and inseparability. It's a generational story, closely observed in interpersonal terms, yet (this is the hardest part) its strategies of representation are in no small part iconic and evocative.

Which is to say the entire show has the hallucinatory intensity and spiritual focus of the Season One Deadwood finale - in which Cochran prays for God's pity and forgiveness and (for reasons both biographical and metaphorical) Swearengen bestows it - but without the generic reassurances and archaism-tolerance settings of that earlier show. It helps to see JfromC as a companion piece to Deadwood, clarifying and expanding on its 'metaphysical' themes. It's a Gospel, more John(!) than Mark, but it's also a Revelation story - and (here's the tough bit) the symbolic and (let's say) 'characterological' or realistic dimensions of the show exist in unfamiliar proportions. Without the assortment of conditioning signals and prefatory gestures that Westerns and cop shows provide, you've gotta take everything about the show on faith.

Which is (surprise!) one of the main points of the show itself anyhow.

If you're interested in Milch, you should unquestionably listen to his Writers Guild lectures from a couple of years back - during the writers' strike - found here. Scroll down to the PODCAST entries and the videos below them. After a couple of listens you start to get a sense for how comprehensive and serious the man's thought is - in six hours of lectures he doesn't say anything, not a word, by accident. They're fucking great.
posted by waxbanks at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

Let me just say: it seemed to me that John from Cincinnati was vastly underrated. Deadwood was good, but it was weighted down by its gimmick, which frankly Milch's writing transcended nearly from the beginning; the entire old west think seemed pretty lame to me before long. John from Cincinnati didn't have the same problem, and ended up pretty transcendental.

I can't agree with much here beyond that first sentence, which I absolutely agree with -- though JFC had the stumbling block of often seeming aimless and unfocused. I think it would have resolved into a hell of a show once Milch finished sifting through his many, many ideas and found the ones he cared about enough to develop. As it stands, I found JFC to be a really great show now and then -- how great was that scene where John stopped time? how good was, amazingly enough, Ed O'Neill? or really, most of the cast, some of whom were not professional actors at all but you'd never know? -- but a frustrating one, as some storylines veered into anticlimax and other storylines were given screentime they didn't really deserve and...writing-wise, it was all kind of brilliant-first-draft.

As much as I love Deadwood, I found that it had the same problems as JFC, but Milch was fortunate enough there to have the spine of documented history to keep the show from straying too far into the weeds. JFC is more like Milch is out there on the bleeding edge of his own imagination, and sometimes what he struck was gold, and other times...less so. I would have liked to have seen more, frankly, but I don't get the sense of being robbed that I got when HBO killed Deadwood, because Deadwood set up so many situations I wanted to see reach a conclusion, whereas JFC...? I have no idea where that was going, and that's sort of exciting, but it's also maybe not a way you should feel about a TV show after it's had ten hours of your life. I think its ending is kinda elliptical and mystifying and neat, much like the show as a whole, and fitting, even if it wasn't meant to be the end.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:33 AM on May 8, 2010

I'm really, really surprised to see all the JFC love here. I thought Deadwood was a brilliant TV show, but JFC was a potentially interesting idea weighed down by TERRIBLE acting (Sorry, but those non-pros were just abysmal, and they sucked the energy out of everything) and a self-indulgent love of its own quirkiness. It wasn't that it wasn't straightforward enough, but that its experimental storytelling didn't have a point. Or maybe it did, but they just threw everything in, trying to hammer you over the head with "this is mystical and important! examine the nature of the universe!" Honestly, I would have liked the show more if they had paced it more slowly, letting things develop more organically instead of trying to fill the plot with as much shit as possible (My same problem with season 2 of Carnivale, which moved too quickly and tried to cram in too much plot vs. the far superior, more bizarre, but more involving season 1).
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:32 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let me just say: it seemed to me that John from Cincinnati was vastly underrated. Deadwood was good, but it was weighted down by its gimmick, which frankly Milch's writing transcended nearly from the beginning; the entire old west think seemed pretty lame to me before long.
posted by koeselitz

How is having a show take place in a different time period a gimmick? I'm honestly curious. I think Milch has a lot of gimmick's despite my love for what he does, but I don't see how working in a genre (and subverting the hell out of it) is one of them.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:35 AM on May 8, 2010

I'm really, really surprised to see all the JFC love here.
posted by Saxon Kane

I definitely agree with this, I found JFC extremely fascinating at first and then found that the way the mysteries were resolving were in the most disappointing ways possible. Also unlike others above I really couldn't stand that timestop scene, and didn't watch the show after it. It's interesting to see which parts of a writer's work people gravitate towards, and how the fanbase can be split by a subsequent work.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:41 AM on May 8, 2010

Yeah, I also don't understand how Deadwood could be considered "gimmicky" (because it's set in the "Wild West"?) but JFC wouldn't (it's about spiritual surfers). I mean, both are equally "gimmicky" in that way.

Deadwood had many brilliant actors cast in amazing characters. They developed slowly, believably; they had real depth. And Milch's dialogue tics transcended formula to become, as others have said, like profanity-laden Shakespeare. JFC, on the other hand, had a few good actors, a few interesting characters, a few terrible actors, a bunch of annoying characters, and fairly lame and wooden dialogue. I mean, maybe I should watch it again, maybe I'd appreciate it more (I honestly don't even remember much of it now even though I watched every episode at least 2x when it first aired), but it just seemed so... dull and transparently pretentious. I really hope Luck is better, though.
posted by Saxon Kane at 8:06 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

One more for +1 JFC, and +1 for Deadwood.

Both shows got cut off at the knees, if I heard right, before the story arc could finish. Deadwood at least has enough to enjoy some satisfying narratives.

JFC had promise, and when it got chopped, that ending was unwatchable. I was so great to see John develop, like some Eliza bot with super powers. Then in came the weird symbology and the abrupt ending.
posted by drowsy at 8:35 AM on May 8, 2010

I liked John From Cincinnati OK at first, but felt like it got weirder and weirder for teh sake of being weird as it went on. My favorite part was the opening credits.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:05 AM on May 8, 2010

Deadwood stopped being a western in the fourth episode when Wild Bill was shot. It was almost like his death buried both the western and the revisionist western and freed the show to become something else entirely. Of course, it is my favorite television show of all time, so I see almost everything that show did in positive terms.
posted by Falconetti at 9:24 AM on May 8, 2010

Ahem, Falconetti, *SPOILER ALERT*? Not everyone has seen Deadwood. Me, I loved loved LOVED it. But I never quite could feel that same love for JFC. I agree with kirkaracha; it seemed to just try too hard. And some of the acting was awful.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2010

I think the statute of limitations on that particular spoiler expired about 125 years ago, TochterAusElysium.
posted by kipmanley at 11:04 AM on May 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, I never saw Deadwood, but I know on the TWoP forums people were excited about JFC because of Milch's involvement. There was a wide variety of disappointment or love from those TV junkies about "John from Cincinnati", and the critics didn't seem to like it, but me personally? I loved that show, and was so sad it got canceled!

I thought the value of HBO is that they could give a show a good long leash (this is the same network that had Arli$$ on for years, right?). JFC had a humanity in its story, and I thought very honest acting even from the non-actors (except Shaun, who was more stiff and wooden than the surfboards they rode on). Some of the scenes and explications of pain and trauma and longing and guilt were just so gutfelt and honest, I was just blown away. And yeah, the symbolism/word play gimmicks, whether the reference to John Frum cargo cults, or the camera work and wording as they turned that old motel into a gathering of misfit apostles, or the supernatural sequences and John's speeches/videos about 1s and 0s, was all a bit heavy handed, and the finale was a bit unfulfilling... but it still worked in a new and interesting way that most TV does not, and I suspect a lot of its shortcomings were from not having even found their second or third season footing before having to wrap up the series by the 10th episode.
posted by hincandenza at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2010

While for reasons both personal and fanboy I'm glad that Rome got on the air, I'm always sorry that Milch didn't get a chance to make his cops-in-Rome story that HBO turned down because they already had Rome greenlit. Basically, it was going to be about Roman cops under the rule of one of the insane emperors, so that they would have had to take orders from a horse and wage war on the sea and all that.

I suppose if I got out a piece of paper I could figure out what it says about me that I consider season two of Deadwood a crowning achievement of television and season three to be one of the biggest disappointments in teevee history. Something in the realm of not letting ideas get in the way of story.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:30 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

At first it was fun when people from Deadwood would show up on John From Cincinnati, but as more and more showed up it really made me wish I was watching them on Deadwood instead.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:28 PM on May 8, 2010

Bookhouse, have you rewatched season 3 of Deadwood? I was very disappointed with it on first viewing (as it aired), but now I love it. Season 2 is my favorite, but 3 is a close second.
posted by dobbs at 4:28 PM on May 8, 2010

Dobbs, I'll rewatch it on your recommendation and let you know. I'd love to redeem it in my own eyes.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:31 PM on May 8, 2010

Ahem, Falconetti, *SPOILER ALERT*? Not everyone has seen Deadwood.

I dunno -- that isn't much of a spoiler. It's the fourth episode, and well, a historical event.
posted by Amanojaku at 9:59 PM on May 8, 2010

John From Cincinnati was a pretty big disappointment for me. I thought it was ramshackle (and not in the good Waitsian way), inconsistent, over-written but too often not well (yes, I know, relatively speaking) written, populated with characters that seemed less characters than writerly devices, and much of the 'lookit all this quirky smartness splashing around here' stuff was clumsily telegraphed and obvious and not nearly as smart or quirky as it thought it was.

Still, better than 90% of the crap out there.

Ah well. Maybe it was just the casting choices. Man, what a parade of relentless unlikeability there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:05 AM on May 9, 2010

See, this is why I come here for intellectual discourse, as opposed to other parts of the net.
JFC is not for everyone, I think we could all admit that - but here, those that didn't like it will give reason for their opinions rather than saying "it's garbage and anyone who likes it is a moron."
I, for one, found it (as other said) interesting, challenging, sometimes willfully obtuse, quirky (and not just for the sake of it - however, the fact that it was cut down so quickly and not allowed to give reason for its quirks made a lot of it seem that way) and overall well cast and acted - I even suspect that the amateurs would have eventually found their footing, and not just on the surf.
I don't deny people their opinions on the show, agreeing with me or dis, however, to this day I still can't hide my disappointment in HBO for giving the show the axe before it had even really shown its direction.
posted by cerulgalactus at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2010

cerrulgalactus: While I think JFC was mostly a big failure for all the reasons stavros outlined, I think it deserved renewal far more than the abysmally bad "Tell Me You Love Me," which was picked up for a 2nd season but canceled when the creator couldn't decide where to go with it, or the dreadful "Mind of the Married Man" starring the equally dreadful Mike Binder. But, I think that as far as weird/supernatural shows, Carnivale was far superior to JFC on all counts, and I would have loved for that to get a full run.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:14 PM on May 10, 2010

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