Saturday, June 9, 2007

Good-bye, Sopranos - Hello, John from Cincinnati

Bloomberg News Television reported recently that some folks at HBO headquarters were worried about the bottom line now that The Soprano’s is set for 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 is 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 which will replace The Sopranos, June 10, the last episode for the Sopranos. HBO has a good idea in airing the new series shows just after we find out whether Tony Soprano gets it by the feds or by the rival mob factions. One feels a little sorry for Tony. It’s been pretty clear in the recent episodes of The Sopranos that things are falling apart with the family. It’s positively strange how a person as mundane and law-abiding as me has a twinge of sympathy for a man of pathological ambitions. That’s a tribute to the talent of The Sopranos producers, directors, writers, and cast. Of course, the success of The Sopranos also plays upon the corruption that lurks in our larcenous hearts.

Right after Tony Soprano goes down in a hail of bullets along with the antagonistic and highly grating Phil Leonardo, the moment will be right for the 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 on the West Coast of the U.S. has a deeper, more imbedded mystique than it does on the East Coast. It’s a kind of religion, in fact, and its gods are the Surf Gods and Goddesses, the often blond-haired, blue-eyed Adonis and Venus types who seem not to be really there when you talk to them. In fairness, it must be said that a large part of the reason surfer boys and girls seem to be “not there” is because they don’t want you to be there. Surfers prefer the company of the raging Pacific waves to people and 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. The enclave comprises three generations of the Yost family deteriorating in successive generational waves. 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, 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 one and we get by with a little help from our friends.

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. Not everyone appreciates the stranger in their midst.

A key element in this HBO venture is the mysterious, ethereal, and spiritual world. 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 nuthouse. 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.

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