What Was the Meaning of 'John from Cincinnati'?

The show that ended five years ago this month left a lot of people with unanswered questions. What do you think was the show's meaning? What did it mean to Imperial Beach?

Five years ago this month, the final episode of the TV series John from Cincinnati was aired on HBO.

To state the show's focus as plainly as possible, John from Cincinnati was about miracles, spiritualism and surf.

Shot almost entirely in Imperial Beach, the god-like character John Monad descends on a surf family and a town portrayed as a place where honest people, dirt bags and miracles intertwine.

Made in part by Deadwood creator John Milch, the show premiered after the final episode of The Sopranos, and included well-known names like Ed O'Neill, Rebecca De Mornay, Luke Perry and Bruce Greenwood.

Critics described the show as "profane," "strange," "mesmerizing," and "entertainingly confounding." One went so far as to name it one of the worst shows of the past decade.

Possibly due to its 10 episodes, two-month lifespan, John from Cincinnati left many people in IB (and elsewhere) asking what the show was all about.

Things happened that were unexplainable to the characters of the show and likely to people watching at home.

The first episode begins with people sneaking across the U.S.-Mexico border and the words, "The end is near."

People levitate, their hair sets fire, and miraculous healing takes place.

By mid-season John gives a lengthy sermon in the parking lot of the abandoned El Camino Motel, named the Snug Harbor Motel for the show.

Instead of 40 days in the wilderness, John goes surfing for a day and comes back with a new wetsuit and clothing brand.

The last episode ends with someone surfing John saying "Mother of God Kass Kai."

In an interview with The Guardian UK, the show's co-creator David Milch said the show was put together too fast. 

"I wrote it in four months and that wasn't adequately respectful to the process," he said.

In an interview with Tavis Smiley, Milch tried to convey the meaning of the show.

“The idea [behind John from Cincinnati is] that the universe is a solid system but [also] a series of waves,” he said. “And that man is not an individual creature, but that his essence is carried from seeming individual to seeming individual [and becomes] available to surfers if they aren't loaded and selfish or if they don't become addicted to the behavior of surfing itself."

What was the meaning of John from CincinnatiWhat did it mean to you? What was the meaning of the final words? Did the show help or hurt IB? Why didn't the show last?

Tell us in comments.

Sean Malabanan August 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM
The show helped IB. I myself got lots of days work as an extra, met some cool people and ate with the crew. But, unfortunately the show was a flop. The storyline was confusing and hard to follow. Locals surfers Kyle Knox, Andrew Pate, Adrian Felix and Serge Dedina's sons were also involved in the show.
Dennis Lepak August 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I think it would have been better if it was called "Imperial Beach" and forgot about John. We enjoyed it anyway.
Serge Dedina August 20, 2012 at 04:35 PM
The show brought a lot of money into Imperial Beach that was directly spent on local businesses and created more than quite a few jobs for local residents (including my kids and my father). David Milch donated to Wildcoast for the Dempsey and Camp Surf. The production company also helped a lot of people in need on IB's north side where they filmed. They for example bought gift cards at Wally's to give to North Side residents impacted by the production. Overall, the show made IB an interesting place and brought a lot of good attention to our city. Some folks were upset by the show's use of curse words and the storyline, but the fact is, the show did a remarkable job of treating local residents well and investing in the local economy. The city of IB made a small fortune in permit fees.
iblindalou August 20, 2012 at 07:17 PM
It portrayed IB in a bad light and I'm glad it didn't make it, besides it being just plain stupid!
Gidge August 20, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I personally liked John from Cincinnatti but think it may have been misunderstood. I was hoping that it would have been revamped. The characters and events were interesting but may have been lost with the stereotypical behavior. I agree with the person above who said John may have confused everyone, it was more a story of IB. Having lived around IB for 47 years, the only thing I would say was a bit offensive was there was not enough diversity in characters. It seems they keyed on stoned surfers and crazy old people. I think if the writers hung out longer in IB, they could have come up with many more interesting storylines. I was not offended by the swearing but again, to market it elsewhere, it could have been toned down a bit. I think if the writers did more research throughout IB, this could have been another "Two and 1/2 men". Hey, I got a good idea, IBers, let's rewrite the series and show them what we IBers have. Change the name to "Us from Imperial Beach".
Nickolas Furr August 21, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I absolutely loved the show. But then I have an affection for that looping, baroque type of dialogue in the show -- called "Milchspeak," which David Milch is famous for. (Also similar to dialogue in the middle few seasons of "NYPD Blue" and pretty much both seasons of HBO's "Deadwood.") To me, "John From Cincinnati" was about that part of God which touched down in the world and made Imperial Beach his home. He hung out with sinners, oddballs, the weird and the damaged -- not because they were representative of IB, I think, but because Jesus Christ allegedly did the same thing. I believe that IB was chosen as a perfectly normal spot with people that represented all of us. And I suspect that had they gone longer than 10 episodes, we would have seen more and more of the local flavor. Just my $.02 worth.
Serge Dedina August 21, 2012 at 08:34 PM
The writers for the show spent lots of time in Imperial Beach and included Kem Nunn who wrote Tijuana Straights--just about the only novel on Imperial Beach that exists. My book Wild Sea includes two chapters on JFC. To see how the film crew documented the lives of Imperial Beach residents check out these really cool short documentaries: http://jfcexperience.com/?p=47 In the end though--the show wasn't about Imperial Beach--it was about a cast of characters who happened to live in IB.
Gidge August 21, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Where can I get a copy of Tijuana Straights?
Serge Dedina August 21, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Check the library, a local bookstore, or Amazon.
Dean Meredith March 02, 2013 at 08:48 PM
I loved JFC and truly grieved when it was canceled. I watch it over and over and catch new things and meanings at each viewing. I also write episodes for a fan site. Everyone I tried to get to watch it didn't get it which was the presiding opinion.
Kent Lane Carter August 25, 2013 at 08:20 PM
I recently watched the 10 episodes and I really liked it. Loved the surfing and skating, especially the scene when John and Shaun mysteriously return and are riding the wave together. The characters were interesting, and I liked how hey just went with John and his strangeness, heck everyone had their oddities. Loved the local scenery, I could even pick out the locations, although with all the recent changes spots like the hotel are now gone. Cheers for IB and their moment. I kinda liked how it ended leaving everything hanging, letting you imagine how it all worked out. Cult classic!!!!!!
Drew Pagliari March 14, 2014 at 06:01 PM
Dean - I felt the same way. I started to work on a tv script with my gf almost immediately after in Aug 2007 - Searchin for John. Never finished as I got involved in other things. Oddly enough I never watched the last episode until last weekend - almost 7 years later...For some reason I just couldn't let it end. Then I heard John say 9-11-14. Weirder still. I'm now having ideas for resurrecting Searchin for John but I would really like to contact Milch.
ab April 11, 2014 at 11:18 PM
i am going to watch it again. it was the ultimate. my understanding of love in life came from the richard bach book out of my mind so it is very hard for me to reach me as well. this show reached me.


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