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TV Review Memorable television in this year of Black Lives Matter

Lovecraft Country refashions and redefines 1950s US, not as consumer paradise, but as apartheid state that is being liberated one monster at a time, writes DENNIS BROE

Lovecraft Country
HBO on Sky Atlantic

IT’S now a done deal with the series already out in its entirety, but the best pilot and one of the best shows of the year is HBO’s Lovecraft Country, now on Sky Atlantic.

The series is a second stunner by producer Misha Green after the too-quickly aborted success of Underground, about the underground railroad.

Lovecraft Country refashions and redefines 1950s US, not as consumer paradise, but as apartheid state, just as Underground revisions the pre-civil war battle against slavery as a revolutionary struggle.

The pilot of Lovecraft Country is a combination of Green Book and Night of the Living Dead, one a masterpiece and the other a hunk of unmitigated garbage.
    
Lovecraft Country cleans up the trash that was the Academy Award-winning Green Book and resets its smug righteous Driving Mr Daisy reaffirmation of white liberal US by refocusing its road trip by three African-Americans through a perilous northern landscape that is fraught with the still present danger of white cops constantly threatening their lives.

The pilot also revivifies George Romero’s still shocking masterwork, a zombie apocalypse where the horror of the ’70s US racist police state in the end outdoes the horror of the flesh eaters as the sole black survivor is gunned down in a finale that merges the Black Panther Fred Hampton’s killing with the zombie film.
    
Here, after the terror the three African-Americans suffer at the hands of white America on their trip from Chicago to the supposedly progressive haven of Massachusetts, the appearance of several of horror writer HP Lovecraft’s signature monsters The Shoggoth — blobs devouring everything in their path with thousands of snapping teeth — comes as a relief.
    
These monsters at least are finite and not part of a perpetual system that categorically excludes black people. Or, as the show would have it in quoting James Baldwin, part of a country where the American dream is achieved at the expense of the American negro.

Episodes one and three emphasise the socially critical aspect of New Black Horror, so prominent in the masterwork in this subgenre Get Out.

Tik, Letti and the reliably stabilising Courtney B Vance as Tik’s Uncle George take that most American of adventures, the road trip, in search of George’s lost brother. It’s not the oddball-but-endearing characters of a Route 66 they encounter but rather a murderous police state aligned against them.

In a diner, they view the ’50s kitsch figures not as nostalgic but as menacing and are forced to flee with the arrival of armed attackers. A lingering and unnerving shot of a white man with a gun in the back of a truck suggests the chase and murder of Georgia jogger Ahmaud Arbery pursued by a gun-toting ex-cop and his son.

Episode three, with Tik, Letti and Tik’s father back in Chicago, takes up the thorny ’50s question of housing segregation as Letti buys a home in north Chicago across the line of demarcation.

Letti faces a brigade of white men parking their cars in front with the horns perpetually blaring to drive her out of her home.

She revenges herself on the cars with a baseball bat and stakes her right to cross the colour line.

Letti and Tik are tortured by that other kind of social distancing, racial segregation, and along with it defunded schools and perpetuating poverty which, far from being overcome, is still a primary way of maintaining inequality today.

Episodes two and four are about bringing African-Americans to the forefront of genres they have been locked out of in a kind of representational apartheid.

Black audiences, lacking an identification figure in what was the squeaky-clean genre of horror, often rooted for the monster who ravaged the privileged victims of a supposedly all-white US.

Episode two restores black agency to the genre as Tik, Letti and George stand in the centre of the standard horror trope of the Haunted House.
 
Episode four places black characters at the centre of an Indiana Jones-type adventure saga, but with an African-American historical perspective.

When Letti has second thoughts about crossing a frail rope bridge in a typical adventure sequence, Tik’s father spurs her to conquer her fear by telling her the rope reminds him of the whip his mother described to him that was used by masters on black slaves.

This may be a series of parts rather than a coherent whole but the parts are some of the most memorable moments of television in this year of Black Lives Matter.

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