Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he meets up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). Misha Green is the showrunner and brings together the widest range of HP Lovecraft ideas and mixes them with her own to create a fascinating cocktail.
The opening episode is essentially some of the best content in any form that you will see this year. The episode, titled ‘Sundown’, mixes multiple different genres and introduces us to these characters that you can immediately tell are going to be iconic, especially the ones played by Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors. However, the main focus of this episode is the true to life horror (not the spectacular sci-fi horror we also get) that shows the deadly racism in the 1950s American south.
There is a sequence, with the context that when the sun sets it is legal to kill people of colour, where the police and others chase our lead characters in their cars as the sun is setting in the background, and it is like a sequence from Jaws with all the tension that entails, but this time a setting sun is used as the ‘ticking clock’. It is a truly incredible pilot episode and is one of the finest pieces of TV of the year, and while the rest of the season is unable to live up to these highs, it sets the ground work for a fascinating series.
There are so many twists and turns that I won’t go into too many specific details so that people are able to enjoy this for themselves. However, what the show does do is essentially takes on a brand-new genre every couple of episodes, whether it is sci-fi, time-travel, body horror, or straight up supernatural horror, and this does come with some issues as the show struggles for consistency, but it also a launch pad to allow the show to be bold and try new things.
Some of the stand out episodes are the social commentary body horror episode ‘Strange Case’ where Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), a Black woman, is able to take on the form on a white person and live out life through their eyes. It not only features some truly disturbing body horror elements, but it has some fascinating commentary on white privilege as well.
‘Meet Me in Daegu’ is a fascinating episode that essentially total diverges from the main story to give us the backstory of Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), and her relationship with Atticus. The episode is packed full of style, gross out horror, and is one of the most-creepy yet erotic pieces of TV in years. Jamie Chung comes from out of nowhere to carry the whole episode and is brilliant in the role.
‘Rewind 1921’ is the penultimate episode of the show and features some huge twists and revelations so I will not go into too much detail, but the Tulsa Race Massacre is covered with such honesty and authenticity, allowing everyone a moment in between the time-travel madness to truly grieve and appreciate just what an atrocity it really was. This is an episode where Michael Kenneth Williams is able to really shine.
There is clearly a lot of money up on the screen, as you would expect from an HBO production, and the production design, costume design and visual effects especially are all very impressive, and clearly crafted with a lot of care and quality. In particular the varying outfits of Leti, whether it is her eye-catching pink jeans or her stunning red dress, often she steals the frame and Jurnee Smollett embraces this, and it is very much part of Leti’s character that this is a power move she would want to make. The cinematography is also very string in the series, with the pilot, and the penultimate episodes, being the best examples of this and providing a real visual treat.
The cast is made up of a large ensemble and most people do great work here, with the like of; Aunjanue Ellis, Courtney B. Vance, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Chung, and Michael K. Williams all providing really strong supporting performances and be ready to shine in the episodes where they take centre stage. However, the heart of the show and much of the screen time belongs to Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors. They, along with some really impressive character development from showrunner Misha Green, create very distinct personalities for the characters that make them particularly compelling. When they are together in scenes, the chemistry is simmering and one of their sex scenes blows most other sex scenes of recent years out of the water in terms of passion and sex on screen. Majors brings an internal pain and yet a quirky edge to Tic, whilst Smollett makes Leti loud and badass, and yet vulnerable deep down, therefore making them both feel like truly real people.
Overall, this is very much an up and down season that takes some wild swings, with only some of them working and others not, but when they did, the highs were some of the standout moments of TV in 2020. Misha Green clearly loved the genre bending she was able to do, and still managed to root the true horror in the lack of progress in racial justice over the years. The entire ensemble is superb, but Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors both give two true movie star level performances that deserve both awards recognition and to lead to even more opportunities for both of them.
Rating = 4/5