A fun ride through the rotting, racist heart of America.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
The monsters in the show also refer to the bigotry that Black people faced—and still face—in the Land of the Free. Given that systematic racism has plagued Blacks and minorities in America, every time a cop pulls Atticus over or whenever a Black character attracts the attention of White people, a knot of dread slowly balls up in the pit of my gut.
There is one scene in the pilot where Atticus, Letitia and Uncle George were pulled over by a highway patrol officer, who tells them that they are still in a 'sunset town' (all-white municipalities or neighbourhoods that warn "coloured people" to leave by sundown) as the sun slowly dips into the horizon. So Atticus' only recourse is to drive into the next county before sunset but he still needed to obey the speed limit because any minor traffic infraction will result in him being arrested and worse.
It's a tension that's drawn taut as Atticus drives at a lawful speed, with the police wagon following behind them as daylight slowly disappears before it breaks into relief before the tension springs back.
Race isn't easy to talk about (probably it's something to do people with privilege being uncomfortable or something) but it is harder to discuss it in a fresh and interesting manner. Misha Green—who deftly adapted Ruff's novel—sets Jim Crow America against the backdrop of the weirdness of arcane magicks; interdimensional travel; forbidden science experiments… these do not diminish the import of the issues but rather, ferries us through the use of metaphors.
If you watch the pilot, it seems to set the tone for the rest of the series but Lovecraft Country leapfrogs through different genres: one moment you're dealing with ghosts and the next, its an Indiana Jones-type of episode. 'Fun' isn't a word often used to describe a horror series but that's what Lovecraft Country is.
Green's last project, Underground, dealt with slaves trying to escape a plantation and its soundtrack was packed with modern musicians like Kanye West, The Weeknd and John Legend. For Lovecraft Country, Green repeats the anachronistic route with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Cardi B but also surprises with spoken word material like James Baldwin's excerpt from his 1965 debate against William F Buckley Jr and a poem by Gil Scott-Heron called "Whitey on the Moon".
Lovecraft Country subverts the writings of Lovecraft and other pulp authors who pen exclusionary stories. Everybody in the show has agency; It's not every day that we watch a show where Majors' role as Atticus is Black, a bookworm and can kick your ass. The closest a TV show got to that is Steve Urkel transforming into Stefan Urquelle.
The rest of the cast carry their own weight but Jurnee Smollett edges out with her performance as the feisty Letitia. Her character doesn't take a backseat to the action, she gets right into it, much to the consternation of some of her male peers.
As much as this is a focus on a Black man's place in a White man's world, Lovecraft Country also deals with the problematic people that you hold in high regard: Atticus has a contentious relationship with his father; Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee) sought to escape the patriarchal shadow of her family. Atticus also grapples with liking Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, where the series protagonist, John Carter is an ex-confederate soldier.
It seems ironic that given their wealth of imagination, genre writers like HP Lovecraft (racist) or Orson Scott Card (homophobe) are unable to picture a world, where everyone gets to be the hero of his or her own story. Lovecraft Country seeks to address that.
What we didn't like
I'm not sure if the preview episodes were given final edits but there were instances where certain outcomes felt… like deus ex machinas. There were logic leaps that require a certain amount of suspended disbelief for the narrative to work like in episode four, where our heroes escape a death trap.
What to look out for
Did we mention that HP Lovecraft is a terrible racist? Well, aside from that he did found the Cthulhu Mythos and made massive contributions to the weird fiction genre. Lovecraft Country is a good introduction to his work and other authors or literature that Atticus, Uncle George or Montrose would drop. Hopefully, it might pique your interest in discovering a trove of pulpy fiction that has ensnared Atticus.
Lovecraft Country debuts same time as the US on Monday, 17 August at 9am exclusively on HBO GO. The episode will air on the same day at 10pm on HBO. New episodes premiere at the same time every Monday.