Monday, December 07, 2020

Lovecraft Country, s1 (2020)

This new HBO series worked a lot of PR buzz when it debuted last summer. I don't know the Matt Ruff novel it starts from but was intrigued by the "Lovecraft" and its evident intention to address racism. As the horror and fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft has become nearly as well-known in recent years for his unfortunate racism as for his work, it promised interesting tensions. Alas, though it does address racism, it ends up feeling much more like conventional TV and not very much like Lovecraft, save for some CGI shoggoths that are cartoonish now that we are used to CGI. Lovecraft's most appealing feature, at least in terms of horror, is his treatment of the universe as vast and unfeeling, populated with monsters with their own agendas who do not care about human beings if they are even aware of them. The way we think of insect vermin. He writes about the insoluble problems of anxiety and fear, whereas Lovecraft Country frequently offers perky solutions: stop being racist, the main one. And look to family for sustenance (the reflex for most peak TV: you know the drill, tender moment, I'm not crying, you're crying). Then layer on magic (incantations, secret knowledge, the "language of Adam," which sounds cousin to Klingon). Lovecraft Country does a nice job of turning some things on their head, notably racism, where the show blazes with righteous fury. "Lovecraft country," for example, is Massachusetts like it should be—Lovecraft was a Rhode Islander, but a lot of his stories take place in Massachusetts—yet it has the look and feel of Jim Crow Old South. The sad thing is that this treatment of racism as virulent and everywhere often feels exaggerated, but I bet it's not. I would guess much of it, up to and including the riots and lynchings, are scrupulously rooted in fact. Still, as one more strung-together, padded-out peak TV series, it started to feel like all the others, like Stranger Things only instead of Scooby Doo plucky teenagers it has Scooby Doo plucky people of color. I liked a few episodes pretty well (1, 2, and 6) but felt like things dragged the rest of the way. I admit I haven't followed TV that closely but I also have to say Lovecraft Country looks a lot like everything I have seen: some good ideas, a start that quickly explodes into multiple threads, and then entire multiple episodes devoted to advancing each one simultaneously, with regular injections of family drama for the feels, plus special effects and cliffhanger plots that only lead to further cliffhangers. Put 10 hours in and all they want is for you to can't-wait for the next one.

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