After episode 1 of Lovecraft Country, I had high hopes for the series. I went into the first episode blind — I hadn’t read the book upon which it is based, though it was on my radar and on my reading list. I liked the balance of the show — where the primary monster was other people and the Lovecraftian cosmic horrors seemed more for color than for actually delving into those tropes. [Lovecraft had both great ideas (his essays on supernatural horror stand out) and terrible ideas (his overt bigotry has always been hard for me to swallow); I acknowledge he was plagued with racist opinions, but also likewise acknowledge he had some writing chops worthy of borrowing from.]
The first show did a decent job of addressing the racism of the era head on (and arguably hasn’t improved much since then), although I feel too much energy might have spent emphasizing the “sundown” laws. That said, I’m White and don’t have an intimate sense of how prevalent these kinds of “laws” are, although I grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood and was considered “counter-culture” during the eighties — which invited similar treatments by the authorities, especially in predominantly Black neighborhoods where the cops often used a number of excuses to harass anyone not like them (e.g. White, mainstream and toxic male). It seemed like serious television with just enough horror to make you wonder which were the monsters.
So imagine my disappointment watching the second episode, “Whitey’s on the Moon”, last night. Almost immediately the campiness factor went up exponentially as they introduced the creepy White dude who spoke in riddles, tossed in no small amount of magic with low-quality visual effects, introduced a immortality cult with an emphasis on Christian tropes, the removal and subsequent offering for dinner human offal and a town of White folks who readily ignore the sudden appearance of Black folks in their midst. Suddenly, they add all of the classic tropes that ruin nearly any attempt that has ever been made to capture Lovercraft’s stories in film and they do it with rank amateurism. And still managed to miss the cosmic horror elements, like so many of these efforts miss. The horror, if you could call it that, was worn out tropes of secret societies and mansions with hidden passages and dark histories.
In other words… entirely derivative and nothing to do with Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It was more Derleth than Lovecraft. Coming from me, that’s scant praise (Derleth has a hack, in my opinion, with the occasional decent idea). But a show named Derleth Country wouldn’t garner much attention because, except for a few weirdos like me, Derleth has faded into obscurity. August Derleth is more associated with all of the story concepts presented thus far more than the namesake of the show.
Add to it that the soundtrack included songs that seemed to be shoved in for nostalgic or shock value rather than complement the story being told. Several times the songs became more important than the sounds that one would normally hear if it were real life, and they didn’t quite mesh with the visuals (including the episode title track, which seemed to have nothing to do with what was being visualized). Marilyn Manson in another part? In a story that is about an era seventy years ago? And that’s worthy of muting all sound from the action taking place? Really?
And, to make matters worse, I think we were expected to take this as serious drama with a magical twist. It was more Army of Darkness, except missing the self-awareness of the campy elements of story-telling that made AoD worth watching.
I may watch episode three just to see if episode two was an episode with some seriously strange decisions made. But I went from being a potential fan to hoping that HBO didn’t pay too much for this series.