Lauren Wilk, contributing writer
Photos from Google
*Disclaimer: light spoilers about the content of the show (no names of characters in situations are revealed)
The enticing world of subscription services has been a reliable companion during the ongoing stay-at-home narrative of the pandemic. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and other services have been releasing plenty of series over recent years to provide specific content for a monthly or yearly rate. A streaming service I was able to obtain access to recently is HBO Max. For years, I missed out on HBO shows because I never had the channel growing up, which means I have not seen “Game of Thrones.” Worry not, it is on my list of things to watch.
The first show I completed on HBO Max was called Lovecraft Country that I heard about from a Funhaus YouTube video—a comedy gaming channel that also dabbles in film and television discussions. The name itself strikes curiosity toward the contents of the show: is it going to be about H.P. Lovecraft himself? If you are like me, your first thought went to Cthulhu and creepy fantasy. Well, there is no Cthulhu specifically, but there are shoggoths that happen to be a creation of Lovecraft’s that lives in his universe. Another point of interest that caught my eye is the involvement of Jordan Peele as an executive producer. The great comedian from Key & Peele, who graced the world with the fantastic films Us and Get Out featuring horror aspects and comments on race and society in America, was involved in this show. This solidified my decision to check out the ten-episode series.
Set in 1950s Jim Crow America, Lovecraft Country follows Atticus “Tic’” Freeman, who travels from the South to Chicago after fighting in the war to help his family search for his missing father. He meets up with childhood friend Letitia Lewis and his Uncle George, as well as a couple of other relatives. Their journey takes them across the country, fighting off large slimy dog things, racist cops and civilians, and a mysterious force of magic that finds its way to Tic. This show does contain strong language (swears as well as racial and homophobic slurs), nudity, violence, and gore.
A few positive aspects of this show heavily magnify its value and narrative, making it a truly thrilling and powerful experience. First, there is the occasional contrast of varying time periods within every episode. Picture a scene in the streets of 1950s Chicago, but instead of a song that would have been popular around that time, a more modern rap or R&B song is accompanying the visuals; in episode five alone, it features “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B and “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean. However, there are also older songs in the show’s arsenal and even excerpts from spoken-word poetry—for example, “Good Rockin’ Daddy” by Etta James and “Dark Phrases” by Janet League from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976) are included. The mix of older and newer music performed by Black artists adds a cultural element from two different eras and combats the environment of Jim Crow America.
Another valuable feature of this show is the LGBTQIA+ representation. During this time in America, LGBTQIA+ folk had to be very secretive, since being themselves was seen as something punishable by death. For me, seeing gay representation in a show set in the 1950s is strengthening, especially after going through middle school and high school and learning absolutely nothing about the LGBTQIA+ community (I cannot speak for anyone else, but the American education system made it seem like gay people didn’t exist when learning about history, which simply isn’t true). There are a few instances of dynamic same-sex relationships that have depth and an entire underground drag event that is frequented by a character. I’m noticing a lot of modern shows are writing in gay characters, and not in a stereotypical and half-assed way; they are dynamic characters and tend to play a large role in their story.
Two things this show does incredibly well are its balances of genres and special effects. One should have guessed from a title like “Lovecraft” that it would have some level of fantastical terror, but I doubt one would have guessed the striking quality of those topics within the show. The array of horrifying creatures range from ghosts to many-eyed slimy things to a kumiho. Did anyone have a rich white family that is also a cult that can do powerful magic on their bingo card? They chase after a sacred book and they speak a magical language (the language of Adam). A portion of the police force knows how to do magic, so they get tied up with Tic, Letitia, and George throughout the entire show. The utilization of horror and fantasy helps tell the tale of racism in America, a detail that lends itself to raw emotion within the episodes.
At one point, a curse causes a character to see two terrifying figures that scared me so much I could not sleep soundly for a few nights, and I had to take a break after that episode. An element of science fiction accompanies the persistent horror and fantasy, and I do mean literal space travel through a portal.
The quality of the CGI and graphic effects of the creatures and gore, in general, is astounding. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything this seamless in any television show or film that I have watched. Granted, I do not frequent the horror genre due to my imagination extending the terror I feel into the moments that I am trying to sleep—it is at these moments that I curse my over-active brain. If you are sensitive to gore and violence, I would perhaps stay away from this show, as the contents are so well animated that it makes me stop and wonder, “Huh, so that’s what flesh would look like if it melted off of somebody.” It’s absolutely stunning and it is no surprise that Jordan Peele was a part of the team. I felt like I could just tell which specific portions he worked on.
It isn’t certain that there will be a second season of the show yet, but since it is based on a book, I am more inclined to believe there will be, due to the story already existing. I won’t get too hopeful though, as a lot of shows that come out exclusively on streaming services often die off after at least two seasons. If a season two shows up, I will certainly be excited to see the direction the show takes.