Lovecraft Country. HBO. Review.

HBO’s Lovecraft Country arrived on the genre TV scene to massive acclaim. This was based on an opening episode that is not only one of the best of this year but recalls the heights of the best HBO seasons of recent memory (the opening episodes of Westworld and The Night Of.) It combined elements of creature-based spectacle-driven monster movies, high fantasy, social horror and commentary on the black experience in Jim Crow America. All this ambition was complemented with fantastic lead performances from Jonathan Majors and Jurnee. Smollett. It left this critic with incredibly high hopes for the rest of the season.
Then the regular episode started. It quickly became clear this show was going to attempt to genre hop every single week. Episodes were focusing on haunted houses. An Indiana Jones-style adventure. 2001 like world-hopping time travel. The origins of Jamie Chung playing a sex-based tentacle leviathan. Playing out the Back To The Future scenario against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. This season is one of the most ambitious in recent memory. The central cast is very game for the wild diversions and the addition of Michael Kenneth Williams to the main trio and a strong supporting cast round things out nicely. As with any piece of media that treats the concept of style as so variable viewers mileage may vary on the effectiveness of each pivot. For this critic episodes, 1,3,4,6 and 8 were terrific and handled what they were tackling with aplomb. At best the rest are solid distraction nowhere near the standards of the best episodes. At worst episodes are a massive disappointment considering the heights this show reaches. On top of all the experimentation, this season also attempts a serialised plot. This is the material that suffers most from the showrunners insistence on tackling new styles with every episode. For a show that has huge thematic ambition, the season plot is nothing more than a very basic fetch quest and defeat the villain arc. Stylistic and genre experimentation works best in sitcoms (the first three seasons of Community are the absolute best this critic has seen)that don’t have to concern themselves with any sense of overarching narrative. Lovecraft Country is a good example of what can happen when prestige drama tries to adopt something similar and everything gets overtaken by ambition.
The high points of Lovecraft Country as a season nudge the overall package into a tentative recommendation. A strong cast delivering excellent performances across the board certainly helps. That said this season is a textbook example of “you were so preoccupied with whether you could you didn’t stop to think if you should” in the context of TV show running. some of the wild stylistic shifts work brilliantly. Others have the feel of employing experimentation purely for the sake of it. Even if this season has some of the best TV of 2020 within it. That said as an overall effort (much as this review is about to give it a positive rating)it was nowhere near what it should have been. HBO has not announced if the series is renewed for a Season 2 at the time of this writing. A second season would be worth a chance but this watcher is somewhat ambivalent on it and would be happy enough with the fate of the series going either way.

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