By Peter Hummers on December 6, 2019
WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
Who said there’s no room for theological studies on streaming TV? Not me; here are two entertaining takes on the big questions: What if God wanted our attention, quickly? And What’s so bad about the apocalypse?
JOHN FROM CINCINNATI (Prime Video)
From the brilliant minds of David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) and “surf noir” writer Kem Nunn comes John from Cincinnati, and I can safely say you haven’t seen anything like it, not even among Milch’s earlier works. It opens as a swanky car approaches a beach, and Linc Stark, surfing impresario (Luke Perry) gets out. Looking at a surfer in the ocean, he’s approached by a tall figure (Austin Nichols, Deadwood) who says, casually, “The end is near.”
As the surfer (Bruce Greenwood, American Crime Story) walks out of the water, the stranger goes up to him.
“You know Mitch Yost?” asks Stark, and the stranger pronounces, “Mitch Yost should get back in the game.” He repeats this to the surfer: “You should get back in the game, Mitch Yost.”
To the stranger, Yost says, “You should mind your own business” and to Stark, with whom he’s apparently acquainted, he suggests an impossible and obscene exercise.
Stark is there to recruit Yost’s grandson, a young surfing phenomenon, against the wishes of his grandfather. The story, though, is the stranger, who is essentially a blank slate. Meeting Mitch’s son Butchie (Brian Van Holt, Sons of Anarchy), a drug-addled slacker, he suggests his name is John. Butchie mentions Cincinnati and John repeats the suggestion. All of John’s dialog consists of agreeing with or reframing what he has just heard, except for an illuminating monologue in the last episode. Along the way we get a parrot, and then a boy, raised from the dead, and a few levitations. It’s a crazy ride, but played out naturalistically, inviting skepticism among those involved. At the end of the sole season John’s speech is meant to explain all, although it, like John, is a bit of a tabula rasa. On YouTube (probably an extra on the series’ DVD release), David Milch explains what was going on in a 13-minute video. “The word on the wall hears my father.”
Despite its left-field origins, John from Cincinatti offers a lot for fans of surfing, theology, anthropolgy and David Milch, and it’s a favorite of mine. This dense, entertaining metaphorical allegory is on Amazon Prime, there are no trailers on YouTube, and John is not from Cincinnati! [TVMA]
GOOD OMENS (Prime Video)
This nutty miniseries begins with a voice-over by God (Frances McDormand, Fargo) reviewing arguments about the origins of the universe, which she avers began on 9:13 a.m., Sunday, the 21st of October, 4004 B.C. She concludes, “The earth is a Libra.”
Cut to the Garden of Eden and the serpent whispering to Eve, after which she goes to a nearby tree, tastes an apple and offers it to her husband. Next we see the couple running off … he holding a flaming sword.
The snake slithers up a hill where the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon) is standing, observing the Garden. He assumes the form of the demon Crowley (David Tennant, Dr. Who) and joins him. “I don’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil,” Crowley says. “Say, didn’t you have a flaming sword before?”
Crowley and Aziraphale stay in touch, and we see them throughout history: Aziraphale is saved at one point from a revolutionary prison in 1789 Paris by Crowley. By 2019 they’re having drinks and the occasional dinner out together, when Crowley shares that he’s been tasked to bring a mysterious baby to a local hospital. They realize it must be the Antichrist, and that this will trigger the end of days. This sits badly with them, as they have both come to enjoy their earthly lives, and they decide to try to put the kibosh on this plan. Of course, there is a mixup with the baby, and the angels and their respective employers follow the wrong kid as he grows.
This delicious Amazon miniseries is clearly influenced by Douglas Adams’ Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy with its smart comedy and features parts for Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Mireille Enos (The Killing), who plays one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, in red leather on a motorcycle. A rough knowledge of the Book of Genesis and the Revelation of St. John won’t get in the way of the fun, but is not necessary. Here’s a trailer. [TVMA]