There are high hopes for Lovecraft Country, premiering on HBO this Sunday.
Based on the book of the same name, the story blends racism and literature and horror, and although it probably shouldn't work, it does.
Part of that could be due to the producers, Misha Green (showrunner), Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams, and the cast, which is quite good, including Jurnee Smollett and Courtney P. Vance, who are good in anything, and Michael Kenneth Williams (we've seen five of the ten episodes).
H.P. Lovecraft wrote pulpy horror novels. He was also recognized as a bigot.
That doesn't stop Atticus, aka Tic (Jonathan Majors), a Korean War veteran from enjoying them. His father, Montrose (Williams), hoped to persuade him otherwise by pointing out the bigotry in Lovecraft's writing, but Tic couldn't help himself.
Instead of focusing on the throughline of bigotry in Lovecraft's writing, Tic takes away the magical quality of enjoying the art on his own terms, often imagining himself the hero of a Lovecraftian adventure, victoriously battling monsters and magic.
In today's cancel culture, it's a unique message to send, one of the series' best as Americans grapple with a dark past, struggling to understand it in the context of today.
By making the stories personal, Tic can bypass the author's inexcusable thoughts to appreciate his artistic endeavor. Stories, like people, are flawed. Tic's impressive sense of self spikes early in the series, somewhat hindering his growth potential.
Make no mistake, though, the 1950s-set drama doesn't pull any punches, and racism is at the very core of Lovecraft Country.
Tic's enjoyment of Lovecraft's stories and the similar places his vivid imagination takes him acts as a primer for what he's about to experience as he, his childhood friend, Leti (Smollett), and his Uncle George (Vance) set off to find his missing father.
It turns out that Tic's lineage connects him to a racist, magical cult, the Sons of Adam, and he's got the powers to prove it.
There are very literal monsters at play, and it gets quite gory at times. There is mythology to understand, and there are mysteries to solve; every closed door could reveal a different threat from racist police officers to inhuman creatures waiting to bite off your head.
It unfolds kind of like a forked up video game in which evil entities threaten your survival. There are codes and ghosts and tunnels and mystical potions, and each new episode offers something unique from the last.
While racism could be soul-crushing, our heroes battle it with the same sense of bravery they use to fight the mythical creatures. Perhaps it's that baseline threat to their existence that makes them such valiant opponents to the fantastical.
The biggest problem for Lovecraft Country is a lack of compelling characters. Yes, some actors shine in their roles, but there isn't a lot of character exploration or growth. Similar to some video games, the characters are task-oriented to their detriment.
The least interesting of the bunch is Tic, but thankfully, he surrounds himself with others who reflect well on him. While he comes off as one-note and uninspired after his introduction, Leti and Montrose receive some worthwhile examination by the midpoint of the season.
Exploring them in some depth works to the benefit of Smollett and Williams, and Wunmi Mosaku as Ruby Baptiste becomes a scene-stealer in Lovecraft Country Season 1 Episode 4.
Oddly, even the Sons of Adam members, represented mostly by a slight blonde named Christina Braithwaite (Abbey Lee), offer few keys to understanding the cult or its mythology. Instead, they show up when the need for something fantastical arises.
There is one scene in episode four or five that is so brutal and unpleasant that I had to cover my eyes. It's very similar to something that aired on American Horror Story Season 5: Hotel, and now that I mention it, Lovecraft Country has a Ryan Murphy vibe to it.
By the end of five episodes, there doesn't seem to be a clear trajectory to the plot, but there is enough going on to keep you engaged, even without character development.
It's a testament to the cast that they make the most of their material, and I'd imagine some acting nods as awards season heats up again.
Visually, Lovecraft Country is quite stunning. The sci-fi elements work very well, and the set pieces are dynamic. It fills your mind with atrocities that aren't easy to shake at bedtime.
It remains to be seen whether the same can be said for the intellectual conversation you'll have with yourself about what transpires. For as rich as the territory should be, it's soft on the emotional bite.
Not as robust as it could be, Lovecraft Country has some strong performances and strikes a unique balance between actual and metaphorical monsters. Is it worth your time? Absolutely.
And it's worthy of discussion, too, even if it's not as deep as expected throughout the first five episodes.
Lovecraft Country premieres on HBO on Sunday, August 15 at 9/8c. We'll be featuring full reviews of each episode, so be sure to check in with TV Fanatic after you watch.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.