(An update of sorts: You should read Wally's post about Milch, which contains transcriptions of painful exactitude. It records a brilliant display of nonacademic muddling through narrative complexities. Granted, given that Milch was once a Milton scholar, you'd think him better able to articulate his way through these knots; but if you forgive him those peccadillos, you snob, you'll see his talent for narrative was abundantly evident way back in the dark days of 2001.)
When David Milch announced the death of Deadwood, like most fans of the show, I took consolation in the fact that HBO had already greenlit another Milch production, John From Cincinnati. (As to the two Deadwood films purported to be in preproduction, I hold my breath.) Given that it would be on HBO, I knew I needn't fear any diminishment of Milch's signature style: HBO would allow him to let rain spectacular profanity. (The suits might even encourage it.)
Understand, then, that I watched the first episode of John From Cincinnati in mild disbelief: not only do the characters not speak like foul-mouthed miners, one of them begins the episode unable to say anything except "the end is near" and "some things I know and some things I don't." More on that in a moment. The most memorable dialogue emerges from the interaction of Luis Guzman's "Ramon Gaviota," Willie Garson's "Meyer Dickstein," and Matt Winston's "Barry Cunningham." Their connection to the overall story is (currently) tenuous: they are the lottery-winner (Cunningham) who purchases a motel in which one of the main characters lives; the motel's former owner (Dickstein); and its once and future manager (Gaviota). Cunningham is convinced that something is amiss in Room 24. When he first arrives, he explains to Dickstein why he's packing heat:
Cunningham: I am armed in accordance with the State Lottery Commission's pamphlet The Challenge of Sudden Wealth, which urges that winners be cautious in the conduct of their business affairs.
Dickstein: Do you have another gun?
Cunningham: I did not buy a backup, against the advice of Pete's Pistol Hut.
I didn't contract Cunningham's words because the defining characteristic of his speak is a stiltedness meant to betray a deeper reserve of awkwardness. After the main characters suffer (and recover from) an accident, this trio decides to do something nice for his family. Cunningham insists that they close the door to Room 24 (which he had left open when he sprinted from it earlier). Bumping into each other as they approach the door:
Cunningham: Do you hear the dead man singing within, gentlemen?
Gaviota: I'm half deaf from the leaf blower.
Cunningham: Attorney Dickstein?
Dickstein: Surfer's ear. Exostosis of the ear canal.
Cunningham: I alone, then, am favored by that jovially croaking, post-coital falsetto winsomely caricaturing Debby Boone?
Who but Milch would think to pen such a line? Unlike Deadwood, the people who speak like this on John From Cincinnati are clearly unbalanced. There is, for example, Ed O'Neill's "Bill Jacks," who at one point warns the room that
Jacks: Gawkers, press, candle fanatics ... we are on the precipice of a clusterfuck!
Jacks owns the parrot who died, was revived by the surfer kid, then revived the surfer kid when he died. And with that nonsensical sentence, I introduce the show's core. John From Cincinnati revolves around a series of miracles which occur after the arrival of the titular John. As mentioned above, when we first meet him, he knows two sentences: "the end is near" and "some things I know and some things I don't." Most of the show's humor emerges not from Milch's eloquent profanity, but from John as he learns language on the fly, one phrase at a time. Words mean nothing, conceptually, so he repeats what's been said to him. He understands names, however, and knows who they refer to. Here's what happens when he tells Butchie Yost he likes a surfer named Kai:
Butchie: Yeah, you would John, I'm beginning to see that about you. You know, you could probably even fucking bone her if you tried hard enough.
John: I'll bone her.
Then, when he's alone with Kai:
Kai: What does 'bone' mean, John? (to herself) If we did bone, I'd feel like I was getting over on a hot slow guy. (to John) Touch my tits.
John: Tits don't ring a bell.
Kai: Boning John, is when you put your joint in my pussy. That's your joint (points) and here's my pussy (points, then stares at John). We're boning now, aren't we?
John: Now we're boning, Kai.
"Don't ring a bell" he picked up earlier, and you can see how he incorporates it into his speak. He doesn't know what it means, only that if you put a word you don't know before "don't ring a bell" people will explain the unfamiliar term. John currently employs five or six such phraselets, and it's not inconceivable (given the company he keeps) that some of them will eventually incorporate profanity, or that by the seventh or eight episode his language will be so idiosyncratic it'll be indecipherable to uninitiated. To be frank, I find that idea thrilling. It is not, however, what thrills me most about this show.
What thrills me most about this show is that, content-wise, it's likely to be the most profoundly Christian show on television. But strict Christians will deem it unwatchable because of Milch's profanity; and if even Milch tones his language down and it's embraced by mainstream Christianity, talking about will require they adopt an argot that'll make them sound demented. Imagine, if you will, the abstinence movement adopting John and Kai's definition of "boning."
Then multiply by an as-yet-undetermined factor.