Julien Neaves – Editor
When I saw the trailer for HBO’s Lovecraft Country I was like “dang, this look good.” And then I saw Jurnee Smollett in it and I was like “dang, she looks good.” But seriously I had very high expectations of this horror drama executive produced by Misha Green (Underground), J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Star Wars) and Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us and The Twilight Zone). And were those lofty expectations met? Well…kinda-ish.
Let’s jump right into it. With a Cthulhu-sized SPOILER ALERT here is my review of Season 1 in four slices:
Slice 1 – Population
The series begins with former soldier Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors of Da 5 Bloods), his old friend and later lover Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Smollett of Birds of Prey), and his uncle George (veteran actor Courtney B. Vance) traveling across segregated 1950s America in search of Tic’s estranged father Montrose (Michael K. Williams of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire). That search leads them into a dangerous world of secret societies, magic, monsters and mystery.
Majors may have been the star but it is Smollett who had the breakout performance. She imbued Leti with an energy, passion and emotional intelligence that was quite endearing. Majors was decent enough but at times he was a bit meh. I loved Vance as the kindly Uncle George and was genuinely sad when he died. I found Williams disappointing as he had little chemistry with Majors and his character arc was all over the place. And are we just going to move on from him murdering Yahima? Seriously? Can we bring back Uncle George please?
On a more positive note the rest of the cast were pretty good (I’ll chat more about Wunmi Musaki as Leti’s sister Ruby later), and I especially enjoyed the deviousness Abby Lee brought to her role as the villainous Christina Braithwaite.
Slice 2 – Wildlife
As a fan of the monster horror sub-genre my favourite aspect of the series was the creatures. I adored the vicious, many-eyed shoggoths and their bloody massacres were so beautifully shot it is almost brought a tear to my eye. And really, who doesn’t want to see a bunch of racists get torn to pieces while screaming in terror? Other racists maybe?
I also enjoyed the many “tails” of the Kumiho and OH MY GOODNESS that was so wonderfully disgusting. The tails coming out of her eyes were hard to watch but I just couldn’t look away. The freaky ghosts from Holy Ghost also added a couple quarts to this big barrel of nightmare fuel. And what about dance enthusiasts Topsy and Bopsy? Well I liked their design and movement, but the more I saw of them the less scary they became.
Slice 3 – Entertainment
So remember in the title when I called Lovecraft Country a mixed-up place? Well that is an understatement. This show might have a touch of multiple personality disorder. The first couple of episodes set the scene for the Freemans and Leti tangling with shoggoths and the Sons Of Adam. And at that point they could have shut up and taken my money. But then we had a haunted house episode. And I was like, okay. And then we had Ruby and the white woman body-swapping. And I was like, okay. And then we had an Indiana Jones episode. And I was like, OKAY. By the time we had Hippolyta meeting Queen Afro-Futurism and jumping through time and dimensions I was like WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?
I’m sorry but it was just too much and it felt like they were cramming three seasons worth of story into one without giving things time enough to breathe. Or they were trying to do a Lovecraft anthology and a serialised story at the same time. Now the quality of the stories were generally good but I found the genre-jumping experience quite jarring, and I think it may have been best to spread things out a bit. Afro-Futurism lady did have a pretty sweet ‘fro though.
Ironically the episode I enjoyed the most outside the first two was episode 6 Meet Me in Daegu. It was a mostly self-contained story and the only major character that appeared in it was Tic, and even then he was a secondary character. I liked everything about this tale. I thought Jamie Chung was excellent as Ji-Ah and I loved both her troubled relationship with her “mother” and her romance with Tic.
The slow burn was well done and the shocking reveal was the one of the season’s best scenes. Poor Ando though. Meet Me in Daegu was thoughtful, tragic, sexy and suspenseful all in one. And it showed that when the show wasn’t running all over the place or trying to do three genres at once it could produce some magic.
Slice 4 – Major Event
Am I the only who noticed the similarities between Lovecraft Country and HBO’s multi-award winning Watchmen? I can’t have been the only one. Firstly both share the main theme of racism, and granted I found the exploration of the themes by both very interesting and intriguing. And I am thankful for Lovecraft Country for teaching me about real-life “sundown towns.” Now that is some scary stuff right there. But beyond racism Lovecraft Country and Watchmen both include the Tulsa massacre as a major event, with the former adding the murder of Emmett Till for good measure. Heck, both series have an older black male character that was secretly gay. I’m not sure if it was on purpose but it is quite the coincidence, and I couldn’t help thinking about it while watching the series.
On the show’s handling of racism I think it did well to examine the effects on the African American characters but the racists themselves were presented as such cartoonish, over-the-top bad guys that it did not take the examination much further from the other side. How exactly did they get this way? They weren’t born like that. I think a look into the process of becoming card-carrying racist would have been welcome as well. And I don’t think there was a single positive or even neutral portrayal of a white person for the entire ten episodes. You guys will correct me if I missed it.
And finally we move from the major theme to the major event – the finale. Yeah, I didn’t like it that much. In a show with so many twists and turns I found the episode pretty straightforward. There was a slight shock with Ruby’s death but the character had spent so much time (literally) sleeping with the enemy and having misadventures pretending to be a white woman that I never found myself taking a shine to her. I thought Musaki’s performance was very good but she lacked chemistry with Smollett and the writing for her could have been a nudge better. So when it was revealed she died I was more like “oh” than crushed like with Uncle George.
And then Leti died and came back to life though I am not sure how. I knew Ji-Ah would somehow be involved in defeating Christina so yeah, that happened, And then Tic died but they had been telling us that for some time now so no shock there. How they framed the scene also did not produce the intended pathos in me. Maybe you guys were bawling your eyes out; mine was as dry as two Crix biscuits.
The plan to steal the magic away from white people was symbolic I guess but it didn’t do anything for me. I did like seeing Dianna with her robotic arm but why was she the one to finish off Christina? Was that symbolic of the African-American youth crushing white oppression? I don’t know. But the choice of her to do the deed reminded me of (Game of Thrones SPOILER ALERT ahead) Arya Stark killing the Night King when it was Jon Snow’s story that had been entangled with his for multiple seasons. But thankfully the season finale of Lovecraft Country was not the dragon dumpster fire that was Game of Thrones’ series finale, and it was still very solid. And that’s how I will describe Lovecraft Country Season 1 as well – very solid but still not in the same league as Watchmen or GoT (when it was still excellent television).
Julien’s Score: 7 out of 10
So how would you rate Lovecraft Country season one? For Sommer’s Top 5 Reasons to Watch The Haunting of Bly Manor you can click here.
* A special shout out to Funny Caption Friday winner and RMR Facebook member Zainab Kamara. Your caption give me a good laugh and I am sure our readers will enjoy it as well. Are you good at doing funny captions? Then to join in on our weekly Funny Caption Fridays you can like and follow our Redmangoreviews Facebook page here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.