Why you should be looking forward to Lovecraft Country on HBO

Hollywood may still be mostly shut down thanks to the coronavirus, but there are still a lot of terrific-looking shows headed out way before the hose runs dry, and one of the most intriguing is unquestionably Lovecraft Country, heading to HBO later this summer.

The basics: Lovecraft Country is a horror drama based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. Set in the 1950s, it stars Jonathan Majors as Atticus Black, a science fiction fan who sets out on a road trip in search of his missing father, with his friend Letitia “Leti” Dandridge (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) tagging along. On the way, they’ll deal with both the very real horrors of the Jim Crow-era South and monstrous creatures plucked from the cosmic fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.

The show has some big names attached to it behind the camera. For one thing, Jordan Peele is on board as an executive producer, as is mega-producer J.J. Abrams. Peele is the guy behind movies like Us and Get Out, horror films that are as much about examining the fault lines of racial tension in America as they are about scaring the bejesus out of audiences. If there was ever a TV show that would make perfect use of his talents, it’s this one.

The showrunner is Misha Green, previously a staff writer on shows like Heroes and Sons of Anarchy. But the show that best prepared for for Lovecraft Country is Underground, a WGN America series she created with Joe Pokaski. Underground is about the lives of slaves taking the underground railroad to freedom out of the antebellum South. Now, she takes on another tale about America’s history of racism, this time with supernatural elements thrown in. With a network like HBO behind the series, this show could be something very special.

And timely. Right now, a lot of people are talking about American racism: how it takes root in systems of power, how it pollutes the justice system and the police force, and how it tears communities apart. These are deeply sensitive, uncomfortable topics, but also incredibly pertinent. Peele, Green and the rest of the Lovecraft Country team haven’t chosen to make a show about black people living in a time of immense prejudice for no reason. I’m betting the show will draw comparisons between what life was like then and what it’s like now, and explore how in some ways, things haven’t changed nearly enough.

It almost feels superfluous to add in monsters, because the horrors of the Jim Crow-error south are plenty terrifying on their own. We’re talking about a time when black people were lynched, when activists fighting to overturn discriminatory laws were attacked and killed by local authorities, when black people were barred by law from having access to the same hospitals, schools, and even drinking fountains as white people.

Of course, the show also has to be entertaining to watch. With Get Out in particular, Peele showed a talent for examining serious racial issues while still packing people into theaters by telling a story that was scary, funny and just plain good. Maybe that’s where the monsters in Lovecraft Country come in: I have no doubt that Peele, Green and company want to say something about race in America, but they want to entertain, too, and there’s nothing more entertaining than an unholy horror from the beyond leaping onto the roof of your car.

Just look at the trailer. Clearly, the show has a great sense of style, and a way with the uneasy. I love how it repurposes the iconic “One two three” kick-off from Wilson Pickett’s rendition of “Land of a Thousand Dances,” an iconic toe-tapper turned sinister and eerie. The colors pop, the sets and costumes are on point, and there are some images in there to make even the most experiences of horror fans cover their eyes: there’s a creepy flash of a little girl with blood dripping from her razor fangs at 0:43. Little kid monsters will never not get me.

But there are layers of irony with the monsters, too. The choice to draw from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythology feels very intentional, because while he may have been a literary pioneer, he was also a notorious racist who did absolutely nothing to hide his contempt for and hatred of black people, or his sympathy with the rise of fascism in the ’30s (“I know he’s a clown but god I like the boy!” he once said of Adolf Hitler). And frankly, if you read Lovecraft’s work with knowledge of his politics, it’s impossible not to be grossed out by his tales of subhuman monster races mixing with ordinary people and tainting their family bloodlines. Like…what is this story really about, dude?

The folks behind Lovecraft Country are way too smart not to be aware of all this, so I think we can expect some subversion of Lovecraft’s ideas. Add that in to the cocktail of stuff already in the mix, and we have promises to be a freaky, funny, tense, incisive, addicting show on our hands.

Lovecraft Country comes to HBO in August! Bring it on.

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