"John from Cincinnati", the new HBO hour-long from David Milch premiered last night after "The Sopranos" series finale. I'm sure when they got that slot the JfC folks were hella psyched to have such a powerhouse lead in, but after that "Sopranos" ending I think everyone in the country lept off the couch, yelled "WHAT?!!?" at their television, and then ran to the internet to start blogging. I think I'm one of six people nationwide who stuck around for "John"
The Premiere was interesting. Definitely falls into the category of "not instantly hooked, but we'll see where this goes." They have my attention for at least two more episodes. It helps that the cast is loaded with people I love. Bruce Greenwood, Ed O'Neil, Luis Guzman, Rebecca De Mornay. Hell, I even like Luke Perry. Despite the great cast the fact that I'm giving this show a chance is pretty generous considering that the titular John (Austin Michols) is archetypal character that can only be described as a "Magical Retard." Generally a Magical Retard character earns your movie or show a one way ticket to Paul's crap bin. I am willing to cut David Milch some slack through since he has been behind some of my favorite TV shows of all time. Also, he is a crazy person and not given to the type of treacly schmaltz that usually follows whenever a Magical Retard appears on screen.
So in honor of "John from Cincinnati", and Magical Retards that aren't awful, here are some of my favorites. Spoilers abound so proceed at your own risk.
1) Chance the Gardner, "Being There" - 1979:
Peter Sellers in his penultimate role. Chance may not be truly retarded but he is simple. He knows very little outside the small garden he has spent his life tending. Once forced out into the larger world, everyone takes Chance's simple statements about gardening to be elaborate metaphors for world issues, and eventually he ends up a national figure and Presidential candidate. Where does the magic part come in? Well that's the twist (I told you there'd be spoilers). Huge in implication but simple in execution, this is the last two minutes of the film:
2) Douglas "Duddits" Cavel, "Dreamcatcher" - 2002:
It took the dream team of bestest-selling novelist Stephan King and uber screenwriters Lawrence Kasden ("Raiders of the Lost Arc", "Empire Strikes Back") and William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", "All the Presidents Men") to bring us the most magically retarded Magical Retard in the history of cinema. As a child Duddits (I, DUDDITS!) befriends four young boys and bestows upon them magical powers (that's how magical he is) that they then mostly use to pick up chicks. Later, Duddits (I, DUDDITS!) grows up to be former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg (he was the "bad boy") and with his battle cry of "Ooby Ooby Ooo, we've got work to do now!", he (I, DUDDITS!) saves the Earth by laying the cosmic smack down on a monster alien that was birthed from a man's ass. I wish I was making any of this up.
3) E.T., E.T. the Extra Terrestrial - 1982:
Not retarded you say? Look at the evidence: Speaks in broken, half-coherent sentences, easily frightened by sudden loud noises, preoccupied with candy, likes hugs. You might argue that E.T. is from another planet and he's just frightened and overwhelmed by our strange world, and that what little English he knows he picks up in two weeks from TV commercials and Drew Barrymore, but I'm pretty sure that even on E.T.'s home planet he'd be considered retarded. At least on Earth he has magic powers. Back home (The Green Planet) everyone can probably bring dead plants to life with a magic finger, and probably better too. Non-retarded E.T.'s probably have eight magic fingers, not just the one. Regardless, E.T. is still one of my favorite films. Here's the last five minutes, which never fails to make me cry like a baby.
Side note: In E.T. and Chance Gardner we have two Magical Retards as Christ figures, and you could throw John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) from "The Green Mile" in there for the hat trick. My point? I don't know. Jesus was retarded?
Post Script: More retarded than E.T. himself was the ill conceived and hastily executed E.T. video game for the Atari 2600. This game was so bad it almost single handedly killed the video game industry until Nintendo revived it three years later with the NES and Super Mario Bros. It is still widely regarded as the worst video game of all time. Here's a YouTube review: