By the end of season 2, we had a mess of a series even die hard Lynch fans complained about. The Showtime revival, to be sure, could give us more structure in terms of actual story lines and believable characterizations ; Lynch's penchant for chronic oddness and quirky situations, where the banal meets the sublime and a series of minor epiphanies occur like quiet, low-spark string of fire crackers, might seem to arise from real motivation and emotional turmoil and not a creator's whimsy. I am hoping that we don't have another instance of 2 short lived HBO programs, John from Cincinnati , created by Deadwood auteur David Milch that tried for a combination of surfing, Zen, spiritual lassitude and copious amounts of assorted surf bums, former cops, henchmen, lovers, muggers, thieves and potheads reciting benedictions that would have confused the most learned scholar, with most of its only season taking place in Imperial Beach in San Diego Country and centering around a quizzical stranger who may be the second coming of Christ or a chirping cretin. At best the show made you think of Beckett and his idea of depicting characters who are, at some point, beyond the delusion that they have free will and find themselves in locations they cannot leave, shuffling through their own set of stylized rationalizations, weighing the consequences of choices they might might, past events and intimacies that have brought to their current stagnation, ritually going about their daily rounds of meals, laundry, loveless marriages, finally able to come to no decision at all and remain as they are, in limbo, numbed and mumbling.
At worst it was an interminable bit of self deluded artiness, laboring under the stray notion that indecipherable dialogue and facile weirdness equals poetry. Much of the worst poetry I ever wrote and most of the worst poetry I ever read was dense, complex, full of striking images and surreal segues, and very little of it was worth reading in full. Carnivale is the second HBO program. It was a bleak , dusty bit of depression , again playing around with someone who may or maybe not be the new incarnation of the Savior. Nothing could save the show from losing my attention, though. Set in Depression era America, its road show of bearded ladies, strong men, clowns, dwarfs, ratiocinated preachers and pissed off waifs was an attempt to furnish the downside of Kerouac's America; instead of bliss and spiritual revivification as a result of hitting the road, there was instead in Carnivale equal amounts of psychic and struggle and a constant state of rock solid resentment among the roster of players. Even the happenstance of supernatural occurrences and miracles in their midst inspired not awe but a groan instead. Everyone grimaced on the screen and gritted their teeth until there was nothing left but raw nubs. What must be said about the work of David Lynch is that he wisely avoids the convenient despair and bleak outlook readymade in the infrastructure of most existential literature and moves instead in the area of the absurd; when his images work, they work with brilliant effect, as is the case of his masterpiece Blue Velvet . That had an actual story line going through it, a beginning,middle and end, and was set up in sharp but credible contrasts of tone, wonderfully represented as the young man in that film, investigating the reason by an ear was severed and left for him to find, leaves the confines of a Hardy Boys like adventure and enters a world of pure criminal psychosis and evil. This is a solid premise for Lynch to place his bits of baroque extremism. It serves the task of representing the journey of naive soul who has his concepts of decencies tested as he his threatened , seduced, manipulated by the presence and logic of the pure evil he pursued. Lynch, with Mark Frost, brought that element of grim humor and absurd consequence to the first season of Twin Peaks.
John from Cincinnati and Carnivale were shows populated by characters who were angry, always angry at something, and who battled one another in agendas that were vague or un-articulated. They were, at best, ponderous,snarling square diets of bad bread, unleavened by wit or humor. Here is hoping that Lynch and Frost have developed a lighter touch and a better sense of where a story needs to go.