Through five previewed episodes, or half the season, the jury remains out on that last part. Yet the series boasts such a handsome look and impressive cast and creative pedigree –produced by J.J. Abrams and “Get Out’s” Jordan Peele, and adapted from Matt Ruff’s novel by Misha Green (“Underground”) — it earns the benefit of the doubt.
What defines “Lovecraft Country” and initially sets it apart is the 1950s Jim Crow-era backdrop, filtering issues of racism and inequality through those years. Within that setting, the series keeps changing shapes, starting out as a quest before morphing into different styles, from a haunted-house-type episode to an adventure with almost a “National Treasure” feel to it.
At the center of it all is Atticus (Jonathan Majors), a Korean War veteran who returns home to Chicago looking for his father (“The Wire’s” Michael Kenneth Williams), who has gone missing. Accompanied by childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), the trio embark on a trip through segregated America — a perilous journey in the best of times, but one that turns out to be fraught with supernatural twists.
Atticus, as it turns out, is well-schooled in science fiction, as an avid reader of such artifacts as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels; still, nothing in his fictional pursuits could prepare him for the threats they’ll face.
The show cleverly plays with conventions of the genre, while employing more familiar tricks — like the enticing twists that close episodes, designed to pull the audience into the next hour.
That’s half the battle, but as HBO has demonstrated, no assurance of winning the war, especially with a concept this opaque. At least initially, credit “Lovecraft Country” with offering solid incentives to stick around, and a welcome, thought-provoking diversion at a time when it’s harder to, well, get out.
“Lovecraft Country” premieres Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.