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The Success, Failure, And Success of 'Lovecraft Country'

By Brian Richards | TV | July 31, 2021 |

By Brian Richards | TV | July 31, 2021 |


On August 16, 2020, the series Lovecraft Country, based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, premiered on HBO. It received glowing reviews from numerous critics and was watched by 760,000 viewers during its 9 PM timeslot, and by 1.4 million viewers across all platforms, including HBO Max. It also premiered during a time when millions of people witnessed footage of George Floyd being murdered by police officers on camera, and when millions of Black people masked up and went out to protest on behalf of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others whose lives ended as a result of police misconduct. It was somewhat therapeutic to watch an hour of television in which a bunch of racist cops are mercilessly slaughtered and eaten by a gigantic shoggoth before they can inflict harm on any more Black people.

On July 2, 2021, Deadline Hollywood broke the news that Lovecraft Country was canceled and would not be returning for a second season. Despite the fact that the season finale was watched by 881,000 viewers during its time slot (and by 1.5 million viewers across all platforms). Despite the fact that those ratings were just as impressive, if not more so, as the ratings for the finales of Watchmen, Succession, and Perry Mason. And despite the fact that cast members, including Jonathan Majors (Atticus “Tic” Freeman) and Jurnee Smollett (Leticia “Leti” Lewis), cleared time in their schedules in order to return to the show, as well as showrunner Misha Green planning out entire story ideas for what she wanted to do in Season 2 of Lovecraft Country.

“We will not be moving forward with a second season of Lovecraft Country,” HBO said in a statement to Deadline. “We are grateful for the dedication and artistry of the gifted cast and crew, and to Misha Green, who crafted this groundbreaking series. And to the fans, thank you for joining us on this journey.”

Since much of the show’s first season was based almost entirely on the book, it was left to Misha and her staff of writers to figure out what direction the new season would take.

“Misha is working with a small team of writers and they’re coming up with a take,” Casey Bloys, Chief Content Officer of HBO and HBO Max, told Deadline in February. “She had a book to go on in the first season. She and the writers wanted to go off and take some time to go out and figure out without a book with these characters, what’s the journey we want to go on. We all want to be sure she’s got a story to tell. That’s where she is right now, working on those ideas. I’m very hopeful, as is Misha, so we’re giving them the time to work.”

Despite HBO claiming to be patient as Misha and her writing staff decided what to do next, it wasn’t enough to ensure a renewal for the series. That didn’t stop Misha from sharing some of those ideas on Twitter, and giving the show’s fans a taste of what was to come in Season 2.

There was plenty of anger and disappointment that was felt and expressed by many fans regarding Lovecraft Country’s cancelation. Some of those fans felt and expressed anger and disappointment about the show long before its cancellation, and it happened more than once. For starters, there were fans (and also a few critics) who felt that the show’s quality began to drop after the first two episodes, making it a little more difficult to enjoy what was happening onscreen. Then there were several plot decisions that fans found both disturbing and problematic: the introduction of an Arawakan Two-Spirit character named Yahima Maraokoti (played by cisgender actress Monique Candelaria), who was brutally murdered by Montrose Freeman (Michael K. Williams) in the same episode, and whose treatment by some characters before her death came across as anti-Indigenous and transphobic. (The response to this story decision resulted in Misha apologizing on Twitter and admitting that she could have and should have done a better job in how she approached it); Ruby Baptiste (Wunmi Mosaku), Leti’s older sister, repeatedly disguising herself as a White woman, and doing so on the advice of her lover, Christina Braithwhite (Abbey Lee), a White woman who wants nothing more than to use her knowledge of magic to gain even more power and become the leader of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, even if it means sacrificing Ruby (who is killed offscreen by Christina, and which was seen by some viewers as yet another example of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope) and Atticus, and stepping on their backs so that she can grab the brass ring she wants so badly. The original author of Lovecraft Country being a White man wasn’t breaking news to anyone familiar with the novel, but it still gave fans a reason to raise their eyebrows and question the source material that Ruff was responsible for creating in the first place.

Worst of all was a situation that was brought to the attention of the show’s fans earlier this year. An aspiring actor named Kelli Ffrench-Parker went on Tik-Tok this past March to describe her experience working on the set of Lovecraft Country, in which she played the younger version of Ms. Osberta (Carol Sutton), a friend of Atticus’ cousin, and who is seen in a wedding photograph. Because her skin tone is lighter than that of Sutton’s, Ffrench-Parker’s skin tone was darkened by the show’s makeup department. When this story came to light (so to speak), the fans saw this as yet another example of colorism that is all too present in both film and television when it comes to African-Americans (which also led to some people on Twitter comparing the differences between how the lighter-skinned Jurnee and the darker-skinned Wunmi are portrayed in the series when it comes to the material they were both given to work with, and which actress is more deserving of praise and attention), and also saw it as one more reason to call the show out on its bullsh-t. Neither Misha nor any of the cast members said anything publicly about this situation, though a spokesperson for HBO simply responded with this:

“We were very disappointed to learn of Ms. Amirah’s experience,” the spokesperson said, referring to the name the actor uses on TikTok. “This should not have happened, and we are taking steps to ensure this doesn’t occur again in the future.”

Despite the unfortunate news of Lovecraft Country being canceled by HBO, this didn’t stop the Television Academy from nominating the series for eighteen Emmy awards, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Jonathan Majors), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Jurnee Smollett), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Michael K. Williams), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Aunjanue Ellis), Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and Outstanding Drama Series. (One of the more infuriating snubs was that of Wunmi Mosaku not receiving an Emmy nomination for her performance as Ruby, as Pajiba alumnus/Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson will gladly remind us). Not only were fans amazed and excited about this news, but it soon led to them wondering if The Powers That Be over at HBO would change their minds about canceling Lovecraft Country and bring it back on the air.

Jonathan Majors: “Oh my. Gratitude and surprise are running laps in my heart,” Majors said in a statement reacting to the nominations. “A full-throated thank you to the nominating body. Thank you for seeing the light in the dark, and the smile in the tears of this character, Atticus Freeman, he is one of my best friends, and I’m glad you all got to meet him as well. Playing this role has changed my life, and this nomination is yet another growing and changing moment. I’d like to offer a deep congratulations to my fellow nominees, I am honored to be listed amongst these incredible artists, all who in such a time offered humanity and respite to a historically chaotic year. Finally, to my ‘Lovecraft Country’ family, congratulations to each and every one of you. I thank you for your spirits, hearts, fight, and support. Our journey continues…”

As it turns out, Misha Green and her agent(s) clearly didn’t feel like waiting to find out if and when HBO would start backpedaling, because not too long after the show’s cancellation, it was announced that she had signed a multi-year deal with Apple to create and develop projects for Apple TV. From Variety:

The deal with Apple reunites her with Apple’s heads of worldwide video Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, who previously ran “Underground” producer Sony Pictures Television, as well as Apple’s head of programming Matt Cherniss, who was president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios.

If that wasn’t enough to keep Misha Green booked and busy, she is still working on the screenplay for her feature-film directorial debut Tomb Raider 2, the sequel to the 2018 reboot, with Alicia Vikander reprising her role as Lara Croft.

HBO’s decision to cancel Lovecraft Country in the face of ratings success, followed by a truckload of Emmy nominations, was seen as one more questionable decision by WarnerMedia when it comes to their treatment of African-Americans, from Ray Fisher witnessing abuse and harassment during reshoots for Justice League, to Warner Bros. announcing projects centered around a Black version of Superman (which to some people seemed like nothing more than a diversionary tactic to make them stop raising hell and asking questions about their treatment of African-Americans), to staff writer Nadria Tucker dealing with racism when working on Superman & Lois and also not being fully compensated financially for her work.

(Much of this is what largely contributed to Nadria’s decision to share notes from the Superman & Lois writers’ room on Twitter earlier this week to not only show what her work was like behind the scenes, but to also educate and inform people on the process of making and developing a television series. This not only resulted in Warner Bros. demanding that the photos of her notes be removed due to copyright claims, but also resulted in many television writers on Twitter lashing out at Nadria for violating the privacy of the writers’ room by sharing notes, and seemingly ruining her career and reputation because of it. Which was understandable, and Nadria soon apologized for what she had done, even though many of these same writers were awfully quiet whenever Nadria discussed the racism she experienced on set, as well as her not getting paid for her work.)

Lovecraft Country not getting a second season not only meant that viewers wouldn’t see the ideas of Misha and her writing staff come to fruition, but it also meant that there would be no follow-up to everything that happened in Season 1. We wouldn’t get to see if and when Atticus would be brought back to life, Leti giving birth and raising their child, Dee getting to be even more of a badass with her bionic arm, and finding out what the world would be like, and how it would react in both good ways and bad, to Black people now being in possession of all magic, and White people (including those who are nothing at all like Christina Braithwhite, and who have relied on magic for their own survival) having all of their access to magic taken away from them.

But it has resulted in Jonathan Majors grabbing Hollywood’s attention and staying busy as a result, with roles in Loki as He Who Remains, the upcoming Netflix film The Harder They Fall, and as Kang The Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. As for Jurnee Smollett, it has given her fans (especially those in DCEU Twitter) even more reason to request/demand that she is given a movie or limited series to reprise her role as Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, from Birds Of Prey. Which would make them so much happier than what HBO Max is doing by giving the red-carpet treatment to John Cena and writer/director James Gunn to do Peacemaker, a spin-off series of The Suicide Squad for HBO Max, long before the general public even saw a trailer for The Suicide Squad.

Will HBO and Warner Bros. have even more reason to kick themselves in the ass with soccer cleats and question yet another business decision that they’ve made when it comes to Lovecraft Country bringing home one or more Emmys? We shall all find out when the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards airs on September 13th. And as a bonus, it will be hosted by Cedric The Entertainer, and not by Michael Che, a.k.a. F-ckboy Supreme Who Is Still Kind Of A Dick, Who Was Never That Funny, And Who Really Does Look Like Chet from Weird Science.

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Elizabeth Morris/HBO