Welcome to What’s the Buzz, 25YL’s feature where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. In our internet age, there is so much out there to think about watching, reading, listening to, etc., that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, filter out the noise, or find those diamonds in the rough. But have no fear! We’re here to help you do that thing I just described with three different metaphors. Each week a rotating cast of writers will offer their recommendations based on things they have discovered. They won’t always be new to the world, but they’ll be new to us, or we hope new to you. This week, Hawk Ripjaw enters Lovecraft Country, Rachel Stewart is watching Chris Rodley’s documentary In My Mind, on Patrick McGoohan/The Prisoner, and John Bernardy recommends the Cooper Dooper podcast.
Hawk: I’ve been waiting for HBO’s Lovecraft Country ever since it was announced. I have not read the source novel from Matt Ruff, but H.P. Lovecraft’s work is absolute catnip for me and I will never not be excited for anything involving cosmic horror—two recent films in the genre including The Endless and Color Out of Space. Lovecraft himself, sadly, was a blatantly racist storyteller who made very little effort to conceal his worldview in his stories. Lovecraft Country takes place in the era of the Jim Crow laws in America, and drops its characters into a world of Lovecraftian horror.
Lovecraft Country centers on war veteran and pulp fiction enthusiast Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) recruiting his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Letitia Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) on a road trip to find his father. It’s a simple premise that slowly unfurls into more sinister layers of intrigue as the show eases into the cosmic horror and the characters begin to be exposed to the sinister supernatural threats that await them on their journey. However, for the first two thirds of the pilot episode, the supernatural is but background noise to the more prominent horror of the racism of Jim Crow America—African Americans have to be careful where they dine and bring their business, as prejudice and sundown towns are rampant.
One of the tensest segments of the episode is when the trio is confronted by a racist sheriff, who forces Atticus to refer to himself using a racial slur and proceeds to terrorize the trio during one of the most nail-biting slow-paced car chases in recent memory. In the final stretch of the episode, things take a sudden and alarming veer into gory monster horror that’s so sudden after the tension of racism that it only elevates the effectiveness of the violence and terror.
It’ll be interesting to see how Lovecraft Country proceeds and whether its marriage of real-life Jim Crow law horror and Lovecraftian terror actually fuse together in an effective way, but so far things seem to be pointing in a positive direction. The pilot is fantastic—the characters are immediately likeable, the social commentary feels organic, and the infusion of Lovecraft mythos is the perfect seasoning to the narrative. I really love how it weaves the cosmic horror through the struggles of African Americans during that painful era, and does so without either overstepping its boundaries or invalidating the thematic importance. HBO has been smashing it out of the park recently, and I’m thrilled to see where Lovecraft Country goes next.