Bloomberg News Television reported recently that some folks at HBO headquarters were worried about the bottom line now that The Sopranos has already completed its final series segment. I’m talking about the really, really final segment. Most other final segments were followed by other final segments, and The Sopranos has, in recent years, found itself in the position of an aging fighter still unwilling to retire.
But that’s neither here nor there. Sunday June 10 was the final run for the long running series which made lots of people happy and rich. HBO is owned by Times-Warner Corporation which has cable and telecom divisions among other things. It seems weird that one television production company could impact the profit margins of a giant like Time-Warner but that’s what the moneybags executives were talking about.
John from Cincinnati is the new show set to replace The Sopranos with its debut segment June 10,right after the last episode for the Sopranos. HBO has a good idea in airing the new series shows just after we find out who takes the bullet and who takes it on the lam. One feels a little sorry for Tony. It’s been pretty clear in the recent episodes of The Sopranos that things have come off the rails in the family. It’s positively strange how some many people have checked in with sympathy for a man of pathological ambitions. That’s a tribute to the talent of The Sopranos producers, directors, writers, and cast.
Right after The Sopranos ambivalent ending, the moment was right for John from Cincinnati to walk onto the scene. The scene is Southern California, close to the Mexican Border on a strip of beach famous for its surfing. Surfing has a deep, imbedded mystique in American culture. To some, it’s a kind of religion. Its gods are the often blond-haired, blue-eyed Adonises and Venus types who seem not to be really there when you talk to them. Surfers everywhere prefer the company of the raging waves to people. You have to have a big wave land on you to really appreciate their power, attraction, and allure. Especially if you survive.
John from Cincinnati is many generations later than the first Big Kahunas. Surfing has become a well-known money and glamour sport. Surf stars have become surf bums. Old Kahunas have given way to new stars. In the new HBO offering, we see three generations of the Yost family deteriorating in successive generational waves. Can a phoenix rise from the ashes? Their best hope for future surfing stardom lies with Shaun, the thirteen-year old son of a drug and alcohol addicted father named Butchie. Butchie still has it in him to be the best but instead of waves, he surfs alcohol, heroin, memories, and whatever intoxicant he can get his hands on.
Shaun’s grandmother Cissy (played by Rebecca De Mornay of Dogtown) is the driving force riding herd on this wild bunch. Aside from managing the surf shop which provides a living for the Yosts, Cissy is a rock of stability in a world of shifting water and sand.
Cissy is not your average granny nor does she look like what most folks think of when they think “granny”. . She’s a creature of the Southern California beaches, a heady world of sun, fun, flame, fame, and pleasure seeking. Cissy uses all the tools she’s learned in her life to ride herd on this wild bunch. She’s the type of woman young Shaun needs in his corner if he’s going to make it to the top in the surfing world. The idea of a thirteen year old threatened with the prospect of tumbling into an abyss of family dysfunction is a solid plot device and its a role that the young surfer plays authentically.
A key element in this HBO venture is the mysterious, ethereal, and spiritual world. That’s where John from Cincinnati comes in: mysterious, unknown, enigmatic. His character adds an additional spirit-world dimension to the lives of the Yosts and to the community in which they live. The concept of magic and mystery is now so familiar to film and video audiences that it does not take away from the “reality” of a plot any more than daydreaming is a reason for any of us to be locked up in a psychiatric hospital.
The physical, emotional, and spiritual worlds are intertwined as we go in search of the big wave in our daily lives. We’re not robots, after all, and it will be a long time before legions of the world’s best scientists will be able to put a robot on a board, let it pick a wave, and run it successfully through a massive pipeline.
John from Cincinnati will be fun if the HBO talents that guide it can sustain it over a long period of time. California surf culture endures. Whether John from Cincinnati is a strong enough character in this otherwise entertaining and tragi-comic beach party remains to be seen.