By John Saeger
Lovecraft Country had all the trappings of another landmark HBO series. Megastar producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, talented actors, and a historical backdrop that was weaponized as a golden storytelling device kept teasing the show as a must-see. Despite a few powerful moments, the series failed to gain traction and stalled midway through the season.
The show begins as an African-American group in Jim Crow Chicago searches for a missing family member. As they journey across the United States (and other dimensions), the group led by Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) and Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) stumbles across an occult society of wizards. The group, the Sons of Adam, is a powerful organization with ties to wealth and law enforcement.
The blend of these stories combines into something that is neither good nor bad, just an overall “okay” product. The backdrop allows for flashes of dynamic scenes. The primary plot, however, is a mixed bag.
Elements of the show build on the trope of “racism is the real horror,” something Peele nailed in his Oscar-nominated movie Get Out. By drawing on historical scenes, the show was able to relay that concept with more blunt force trauma than the film. There is no subtly or slow burn reality that is creeping around audiences this time around.
The acting in the series is also phenomenal. Jonathan Majors has appeared in a series of excellent productions dating back to a minor role in the 2017 film Hostiles. He has done nothing short of knock performances out of the park in The Last Black Man In San Francisco and Da 5 Bloods. Lovecraft Country and the upcoming movie Jungleland set Majors up to become a star.
In addition to an excellent supporting ensemble, Jurnee Smollett is something of a revelation in the HBO show. Her character of Letitia Lewis shoots from the hip and takes no bull. She is also a bit of a grifter with major moral issues in her backstory. Scenes where Smollett is able to invoke passion were among the high points of the series.
In moments with substance and passion, Smollett and her cohorts were able to keep Lovecraft Country afloat. When the series transitions from historical fiction to science fiction, the show lost its way. The primary plot involving the Sons of Adam is marked by characters who never talked important situations out and obtained a remarkable knack for a dead language. This allowed the series to become both rushed and underdeveloped.
The magic scenes also overshadow the better story. I was not able to follow the Garden of Eden mystique of the series, but I found myself mesmerized by scenes that recreated Chicago neighborhoods of the period. Those moments, along with so other period sequences like the Tulsa Race Massacre, are among the most captivating of the year.
It is also hard to transition from Emmett Till’s murder to science fiction. The choice to incorporate reality within the science fiction was a bold move by the show’s creators. Till’s brutal homicide is an unnerving contrast to a fake group of wizards. The two do not mix well and it was one of a handful of moments that did not quite fit together in terms of tone.
Prospective viewers should at least watch the first two episode of Lovecraft Country. There are enough good scenes to make it a worthwhile experience. If you love those two hours, you can keep watching because you would enjoy the remainder of the show. If you remain ambivalent after those episodes, feel free to bail because the series that does not deviate from the template.
Learn More About Lovecraft Country:
About the Author: John Saeger is a music and film writer from Philadelphia. Since 2017 he has been writing his pop-culture blog Long After Dark, a site dedicated to the arts in the City of Brotherly Love.