Sky Atlantic / NOW TV
The premise of Lovecraft Country – HBO’s timely new creature feature from super-producers Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams – is certainly bold.
As its title suggests, it’s inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft, whose lurid ‘cosmic horror’ stories gifted the world such monstrosities as the giant, octopoid ‘Cthulu’. He was also, as it happened, a white supremacist, who once described black people as inhuman ‘beasts’. So you can only admire the posthumous trolling involved in taking his world as the setting for a meditation on racism and slavery, performed by a largely black cast.
Jonathan Majors plays Atticus Freeman, a Korean War veteran and pulp sci-fan fan who, along with his uncle George (Courtney B Vance) and childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) embarks on a road trip across the Deep South in search of his missing father. It’s a journey fraught with peril – not least because, in 1950s America, the Jim Crow laws still violently enforce racial segregation. (In so-called ‘sundown towns’, our heroes can be hanged simply for being on the wrong side of the county line after dark).
But while racism is the show’s Big Bad, there are other monsters, too – big, slavering, Lovecraftian beasts that stalk the woods at night. And once they’re out of the bag, the series gets progressively more bonkers: a mad mash-up of Green Book, Stranger Things and The Masque of the Red Death featuring black magic, invisible force fields, inter-dimensional portals and even the odd musical number.
It is, in all honesty, absolute bunkum. But it’s witty, highly original bunkum, and there’s no denying the racial parable (at one point, a Klan-stle ‘grand wizard’ turns out to be an actual wizard) lends it an edge, while the mere fact of having black characters front and centre in a genre that’s traditionally sidelined them feels like progress, of sorts. My only concern is that it can sometimes feel like a fine line between subverting Lovercraft’s world of horrors, and celebrating it.
BBC2 / iPlayer
To her roll call of dimwits (Philomena Cunk, After Life’s Kath) and down-at-heel underdogs (Motherland’s Liz), the fabulous Diane Morgan can now add Mandy Carter – feckless hero of the actor-comedian’s first self-penned and directed sitcom. It’s her most cartoonish incarnation yet (one of this week’s episodes ended with a wedding shoot-out between a Russian assassin and Shaun Ryder), which even Cunk die-hards might find a bit broad. But at 15 minutes a pop, it never outstays its welcome.
Harry Hill’s World of TV
BBC2 / iPlayer
Harry Hill brings his trademark mix of wit and whimsy to this new series, in which he sets out to pop the balloons of various daft but enduring telly formats. First up was a (largely made-up) history of soaps, highlights of which included a guide to the genre’s “notoriously flammable pubs” and Harry’s memorable vocal version of the Emmerdale theme tune. As for his insistence that long-running Welsh soap Pobol Y Cwm is “like watching EastEnders backwards”… I expect there’ll be letters.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, 27 August 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend