"JOHN FROM CINCINNATI" SPOILER ALERT, PART TWO:
Zack is the latest addition to the Whedon clan's tradition of producing fine TV and film scribes, stretching back to the 1950s and '60s with Zack's grandfather, John Whedon ("The Andy Griffith Show," "Dick Van Dyke Show"); and father, Tom ("The Golden Girls," "Benson," "Alice"); and on through older brother Joss ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Serenity").
Zack has been schooled in the David Milch tradition for the past four years, starting out as an assistant to Milch on "Deadwood" early on in its first season. He wound up co-writing a "Deadwood" seg with his boss last year, and this year he was a kind of permanent freelancer on "John from Cincinnati." And like the titular character, Zack had good timing throughout. In episode seven, he fell into a bit acting part as Wonderboy, aka the Stinkweed vice president armed with all the research about the company's target demo and its prospects for expanding in e-commerce -- all of which earns him a face full of Linc Stark's bare ass in the memorable mooning scene. In Milch-ian fashion, they wrote the character the day before the shoot and were time-pressed to find someone to play the part.
(HBO's hard-working publicists searched but could only find one production still above from that scene, with Milch at the center, and it offers only a glimpse of Zack's arm, his hand holding a pencil and a bit of his face in the far right-hand corner.)
As the fates would have it, Zack wound up taking the lead on the finale seg, episode 10. How'd he come up with the Bunuel-ian ideas and imagery that bring a climax, if not conventional storytelling closure, to a show like "JFC." Well, as Zack (who's pictured properly below) is the first to say, he didn't do it alone.
"David works day to day. You don't know what's going to happen next. If you just show up for your episode (as a writer), you're going to be way out of the loop," Zack says. "It's sort of a blur how 10 ended up in my hands but I was very, very excited to have it."
The "JFC" scribes knew going in that there would be some sort of spectacle in Imperial Beach to fuel the drama at the very end, and they knew that Luke Perry's Linc would be a very important character in the driving the art-meets-commerce theme. And yes, they knew (hoped) that the decision to have John and Shaun come cruising out of the water in camouflage-patterned wet suits would push some anti-war buttons (or at least thoughts) in the audience. (I confess on first viewing of the finale I thought the wet suits were supposed to be fish scales, evoking the missing duo as having become an organic part of their beloved Pacific Ocean. "It's open to interpretation," Zack generously allowed.)
"David writes everything organically," Zack says. "He doesn't like to think too many steps ahead. But there was a logic to the world. (Milch) did in his head have an idea of where John was from and so on. It wasn't that it wasn't building toward something. It's just that on a scene to scene basis he's very open to where the previous scene leads him."
No matter how modest the audience turnout for "JFC" has been, and no matter how uptight most critics have been about the show's free-form storytelling, getting the sole writing credit on the finale is a rocket-booster to Zack's profile in the industry. As for what's next, Zack sez his first choice would be more time with the "JFC" playground, which seems a long shot at this writing. He's also working on his own pilot script, and enjoying the time he now has to follow his own muse after learning at the knee of a master.
Milch, for his part, calls Whedon "an extraordinary talent" and predicts he's destined to "step out on his own" soon. As such, Milch is quite happy that Whedon's name is on the final seg of "JFC."
"It points to the future," Milch says. "That's just right."