That Championship Season — Lovecraft Country, Season One

Jurnee Smollett runs like she means it. This is not a small matter in the first and only season of Lovecraft Country, the HBO series developed by and run by Misha Green. The show swoops in and out of genres like an unleashed spirit, but it is at its beautiful, dark core a horror story. Too often, the folks who are endangered in such visual storytelling efforts make clumsy, tentative efforts to get away from threat, be they recognizably human or eerily otherworldly in nature. It’s all the better to heighten the tension, you see, to keep the pursuing viciousness quite literally right at their their heels. That’s not the case for Smollett’s Leti Lewis, though. When it comes time to flee or charge towards help, Smollett is as determined as a track star with the finish line tape in sight. Want to know how scary something is? How hard someone is working to get away from it is a good gauge.

Based on a 2016 novel by Matt Ruff, Lovecraft Country is set in the U.S. of the nineteen-fifties. In addition to Leti, the other protagonist is Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), a veteran of the Korean War. At the start of the series, Atticus sets out to find his estranged father (Michael K. Williams). In the rhythms of modern television dramas, it feels like it’s the beginning of a quest that will least more or less the entire first season. That’s not the case, though. It’s wrapped up reasonable quickly so the drama can move on to the resulting emotional quest instead.

That comparative expediency in resolving the initiating dilemma is a tip off to Green’s approach with the series. More than most of its fellow hour-long programs, Lovecraft Country is committed to the value in distinctive episodes. Yes, there are arcs that vaguely span the entire season, but a big part of the joy of watching is to see how individual installments have their own purpose and personality. With a strong cast all doing stellar work — in addition to those already mentioned, Aunjanue Ellis and Wunmi Mosaku are especially good — Green shrewdly shift the focus with some regularity. As subplots generally continue to click along, episodes are often on spotlight turns for character. In this, Lovecraft Country is intimate without sacrificing momentum in its overall world-building.

Giving episodes their own weight also opens Green and her collaborators up to exploring genres beyond the foundational horror. They can devote an hour to a story that’s better described as science fiction or that draws heavily on cross-cultural folklore. In one episode, the characters go hunting for lost pages from a book in a hidden vault beneath a museum, and it turns into a puzzle-solving adventure that Indiana Jones might find himself on. This bounding from one genre to another is more than gleeful exploring, though it’s certainly that, too. Because the cast is largely Black actors, moving through this different genres put them at the center of stories that they have rarely been invited to be a part of previously. It is simultaneously jarring and thrilling to see how different the stories feel with the one important, overdue change.

Green’s strategy goes further than mere representation, too. The series in set in a time in the U.S. when centuries of bigoted oppression were on the cusp of finally being seriously challenged by the civil rights movement. At its most powerful, Lovecraft Country shifts beyond a more commonplace metaphorical commentary on real world problems to show precisely how thin the line is between metaphysical terrors and the real day-to-day persecution faced by Black citizens in the era and continuing to the here and now. The approach could be preachy or didactic, but it’s not. It’s rendered with force, conviction, and an abiding truth.

And Lovecraft Country is scary, genuinely scary. There’s a force to it that comes from drawing on Black history — and banishment and erasure from U.S. history as its generally taught and understood — without being exploitative. Green doesn’t shrink from depicting hate and cruelty, but she deftly avoids any sadism in the storytelling. She also makes room for joy, triumph, hope. Allowing for that complexity gives heart and spiritual certainty to the show acros the entire season. It is messy at times, but that, too, is part of its charm. Like Smollett, Lovecraft Country races forward without every bit of energy it has within it.


An Introduction
Buffy the Vampire SlayerSeason Five
CheersSeason Five
The SopranosSeason One
St. ElsewhereSeason Four
Veronica MarsSeason One
The OfficeSeason Two
The Ben Stiller ShowSeason One
Gilmore GirlsSeason Three
SeinfeldSeason Four
JustifiedSeason Two
Parks and RecreationSeason Three
LouieSeason Two
TogethernessSeason One
BraindeadSeason One
CommunitySeason Two
Agent CarterSeason Two
The LeftoversSeason Three
TremeSeason One
How I Met Your MotherSeason Two
FireflySeason One
Raising HopeSeason Three
Jessica JonesSeason One
WKRP in CincinnatiSeason One
VeepSeason Five
Freaks and GeeksSeason One
LegionSeason One
SuperstoreSeason Three
America to MeSeason One

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s