Television

Photograph by Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

{Television Review} Lovecraft Country Makes Good Source Material Brilliant

When I read Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff a few years ago I thought two things. The first being that the book was written like a miniseries. It almost felt episodic. It felt then like a fully formed treatment for television. The second thought was a bit more complicated. Matt Ruff is a white guy. Lovecraft Country is written as a discourse on race in the time of Jim Crow and how it might marry with the racist subtext of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror fiction all from the perspective of African American characters. That complicates how the story is framed and considered. That complication is not bad at all. I loved the book. Ruff creates a world and characters that exist in this racist world while being influenced by the fantasy of the story. However, those complications have always lingered for me.

When HBO optioned the book to make a miniseries my hope is that they would find a way to deal with that complication. That the producers would combine Ruff’s brilliant prose with the real lived experiences of people of color. The folks at HBO figured out a way to do just that. Lovecraft Country on HBO simplifies some of those complications while creating even more. They hired Misha Green as a showrunner and Jordan Peele as a creative producer. The voices of color drive this show and add critical authenticity to the urgent messages the show promotes. With Lovecraft Country the show we get all of Ruff’s creativity all from the unique perspectives of the African American artists working on the project. The show is even better than the source material.

I was only allowed a glimpse at the first six episodes, but in the very first episode we are introduced to our main characters Atticus (Jonathan Majors), Letitia Dandridge (Jurnee Smollett), and George (Courtney B. Vance) as they head off across the country in search of Atticus’s father Montrose who has gone missing. The characters are uniquely prepared for this journey as this group has helped create the green book, a book full of travel advice for African Americans as they navigate the racist Jim Crow south and midwest. They are headed to Ardham (soooo close in spelling to the famous Lovecraft town of Arkham) which is the last time anyone has seen Montrose. In the first episode we meet evils of the tentacled kind but the true evil lies in the police who often work in tandem with the racist residents of the various towns the trio drives through. That is the beauty of why the show works as well as it does. The fear of racism is always a current of the show. It drives everything else. It is Diablo Ex Machina that exists just to make sure the urgency and stakes remain high.

Photograph by Elizabeth Morris/HBO

The cast is perfect. Majors shines as a deeply loyal son that is still grappling from the psychological damage the war has caused (you get a brief moment at the beginning of the first episode that mashes his experiences with the war with his love of science fiction which is perfect, lovely, and terribly haunting. Smullett brings a wry grin and an unbridled confidence to Letitia. She is the engine of the show and chews every scene she is in. If I had any criticism (it is a soft criticism I assure you) it would be that I want more of her. The show and the book are ensemble pieces and there isn’t a weak link in the cast. The white villains are suitable evil (even if they don’t have mustaches to twirl) and unremarkable. The real horror lies within the racist ideology that perpetuates Jim Crow legislation and highlights the DEEPLY problematic ideology espoused by a lot of Lovecraft’s writing.

This show is terrifying. Straight up horrific. The creature work is spot on and offers a bestiary of different monsters that feel familiar to those of us that grew up reading Weird fiction but are creative enough to capture the imagination of folks that are less familiar with Lovecraftian literature. The show manages to capture the immediacy of THIS moment while offering homage to mid century horror and science fiction. Lovecraft Country is the perfect show for late summary. As we look around and realize that some people do not have our best interests in mind (I see you not wearing your mask) the gang in Lovecraft Country knew it all along.

The first episode premieres August 16th on HBO DO NOT MISS IT.

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