‘John From Cincinnati’: Dr. Smith, We're Counting on You

Garret Dillahunt's plot-propelling Dr. Smith.Courtesy of HBO

We suspected Dr. Michael Smith would be more important than he looked: Despite appearing in the classically ephemeral television role of “doctor delivering the news in a hallway,” his picture and bio are listed on John From Cincinnati’s official Website. A dead giveaway.

Turns out that he’s important, though, because he’s peripheral to the big ol’ stew of angst and weirdness in which all the show’s other characters are cooking. As a doctor, he pays attention to the things happening around him; in a world of burnouts, head cases, weasels, lackeys, criminals, and other self-absorbed buttheads, that makes him unique.

Right now Dr. Smith’s the only one fully appreciating Shaun’s miraculous recovery from brain death. And he seems to be an inquisitive spirit, which means, perhaps, that he’ll help push the show’s overtones of vaguely religious foreboding into something more concrete. (We know God and John are trying to communicate something; maybe Dr. Smith can make Them come right out and say it.)

Call us optimists, but we think the way the show’s setting up a deep investigation of religious/spiritual phenomena has excellent dramatic possibilities. The show's weaknesses thus far are that its characters are either selfish and unlikable or inscrutably cryptic. Most of the characters in the series, then, are an audience in need of the kind of advice that the others in the show seem perpetually on the verge of giving (read a healthy dose of religion, however misguided). They might not all be receptive, but that's the point: There could be both personal transformation and competing recalcitrance. Let’s get to it, doctor! —Ben Mathis-Lilley