TV

The Rundown: ‘Lovecraft Country’ Appreciates The Beauty Of Bad Guys Getting Eaten By Monsters

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — I love it

Lovecraft Country is very good. That’s the first order of business here, in part because — as our Kimberly Ricci discussed in her review — it is true and worth noting as often as possible, and in part because I’m going to be doing some spoiling of this week’s episode in a second, and I’d like to give you every reasonable opportunity and motivation to go watch it before I do that. There are not a lot of shows on anywhere right now, let alone good ones. Get in there.

The series premiere introduced us to the main characters and sent them on a journey to Massachusetts, through various Jim Crow era sundown towns where they deal with racist shop owners and even more racist cops. It’s tense at times and ominous at others and just about as well-done as you can do any of it, which should not be a huge surprise, as it comes from producer Jordan Peele, a man who has pretty much nailed the “horrors of racial injustice crossed with the horrors of, like, horror” genre. The whole thing builds to a scary scene in the woods where the cops have the three main characters lying face down on the ground with guns pointed at them. Things look bleak and bad. There is no immediately obvious method of escape.

Until!

HBO

SURPRISE MONSTER ATTACK.

A couple of things worth touching on here:

  • Please consider this your periodic reminder that nothing good has ever happened in the woods
  • It is always fun to see bad guys get eaten by monsters

This last thing is the big one. There’s something so freeing about it, so cathartic. Is it nice to see a villain get brought to justice through the regular channels and found guilty by a jury of his peers before being locked away? Sure. Do I, in general, in real life, support the extrajudicial murder of bad people as a means of punishment for their actions? No, I do not. But do I absolutely love to see a villain get chomped in half or swallowed whole by a mythical hellbeast with teeth the size of steak knives? Ladies and gentlemen, I do.

I’m not sure I can even explain it. There’s something very clean about it all, something that eliminates the moral messiness by splattering a literal mess of organs across the screen. Like, I can’t be blamed for the gruesome death of the evil party here, and I don’t have to do a mental lambada about the dicey issues surrounding a fictional human getting bloody revenge on his enemies. It’s a monster! A soulless bloodthirsty demon! It’s supposed to do this! It’s not even making a moral judgment about anything. It’s just chomping the nearest meat-adjacent thing, which happens to be a blackhearted goon I wanted to see punished anyway. My hands are clean! Let’s not think too deeply about it!

It’s one of the many reasons a movie like Jurassic Park is so much fun. You can set the good guys on a mission of survival that gives the audience heart palpitations, but you can also just have a big old dinosaur eat a creep or two. Bingo bango, problem solved. One less issue on our heroes’ plates. More movies and television shows should adopt surprise monster attacks. The West Wing would have been way more fun if a pterodactyl swooped in a flew off with whoever was giving President Jed trouble some week. Just once. Just one pterodactyl attack out of nowhere to keep everyone honest. I say this as someone who, for a period of months a few years back, repeatedly advocated for a bear to maul Pete Campbell from Mad Men, despite the fact that he worked inside a skyscraper in Manhattan. I’m as consistent as I am completely out of control.

So, yes, Lovecraft Country has me hooked so far. It’s a stunning visual accomplishment and a very cool bit of storytelling and a bunch of racist cops got mangled by a surprise monster attack in the woods. I can’t ask for very much more.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — Bahwuhbbuh bayyyeth

Netflix

It is and quite possibly always will be the position of this column that Maya Rudolph’s voiceover work as Connie the Hormone Monster in Big Mouth, and specifically her pronunciation of the two word phrase “bubble bath,” is award-worthy. Any award. Emmy, Pulitzer, Peabody, Nobel, Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of those really tall plastic trophies they give to kids who win a soapbox derby, whatever. It just needs to be recognized by someone, somewhere. Preferably someone holding a trophy. Although I suppose I will settle for “a late-night host who has a very popular podcast.” Which brings us to Rudolph’s appearance on Conan O’Brien’s podcast.

Conan spent a solid chunk of the interview praising her voice work and digging into her process, because he is a professional. And he got the scoop on the “bubble bath” thing, a three-syllable phrase that she makes an entire meal out of, dragging the words out and hitting each B with a percussive puffed cheek breathiness that is fun but almost impossible to imitate. Listen to the queen, then read this explanation: “I remember sort of doing it and I remember sort of being egged on to… can you find more? Can you actually find more? And we were trying to make — I think maybe initially because she’s meant to be a hormone monster we were trying to make her voice a roller coaster. Just like a roller coaster of emotions. So it was sort of that low, high, low dipping stuff.”

Rudolph went on to explain the actual mouth work required to make the sounds in question. She says the phrase “should slowly bubble out of the back of your throat,” which sounds very unhealthy, like an acid reflux situation. Or, I suppose, you can read it to mean the voice comes from a deep, possibly possessed location in her soul, one that simmers and bubbles up when she accesses it, causing it to escape her lips almost involuntarily. This kind of makes sense, actually. Listen to her say it. Listen to it a hundred times. You could do worse on a Friday.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — Into the Bat-verse

Warner Bros.

Well guess what: Ben Affleck is playing Batman again. Kind of. He is kind of playing Batman again. Not in a full-on Bat movie, or in another one where his chin and Henry Cavill’s chin destroy a city. He’s appearing as Batman in the upcoming movie about The Flash, which sounds very Spider-verse-y.

The Flash movie, which is planned for release in summer 2022, will feature fast-moving hyper-hero Barry Allen, played by Ezra Miller, breaking the bonds of physics to crash into various parallel dimensions, where he’ll encounter slightly different versions of DC’s classic heroes.

Again, very Spider-verse-y. Which is fine. And which I point out mostly to remind everyone how good Into the Spider-verse is. And which leads us to the more interesting part of this, the part that doesn’t get the big splashy headlines like “AFFLECK TO RETURN AS BATMAN” but is fascinating to me.

Affleck won’t be the only Batman making a comeback; a few more of the alternate-dimension heroes who turn up in the Flash movie will be figures we’ve seen before. Michael Keaton’s Batman from the 1989 Tim Burton film is also set to appear in what [director Andy] Muschietti said was a “substantial” part.

I have no idea how this will or is supposed to work and, in the short term, I do not want to know. I want to live inside the possibilities. I want to imagine a 68-year-old Michael Keaton in the Batsuit just whupping on bad guys and quipping some Keaton-y quips. Michael Keaton rules. Ben Affleck is fine. I still think he should be focusing on my as-yet-unwritten sequel to The AccountantThe Accountant II: In The Red — but I can deal with this if it gets Michael Keaton back in the Batmobile for a few minutes. I’m not unreasonable.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Lord in heaven help me, I cannot stop looking at these pictures of Jim Belushi on his weed farm

Discovery

Jim Belushi has a new reality show on Discovery. It’s called Growing Belushi and it takes place on his Oregon weed farm and, yes, this is where you’re probably discovering that longtime sitcom star Jim Belushi is now an Oregon weed magnate. The world is full of wonder and surprises, all the time. I say this not to poke fun at Belushi, who appears to be a full-on legitimate advocate for the healing powers of cannabis. He’s given a number of interviews about it all as the show gets rolling and in many of them he discusses his brother John and how legalized medical marijuana could have altered the tragic history there.

Belushi mentions his brother several times — John’s wife, Judy, appears in the series, along with Aykroyd — and says he thinks Belushi’s drug use, and eventual overdose death in 1982, was partly caused by a traumatic brain injury he suffered while playing high school football.

“I saw my brother have a seizure in my house and we didn’t know what that was from,” he says. “It was from banging his head and getting his bell rung. That’s what I believe. If Johnny was a pothead, he’d be alive today.

So that’s fine. Good, even. But I cannot be expected to focus on that when there are pictures like the one at the top of this section just floating around the internet. Look at it! Look at the hat/cigar/smirk situation happening there! I want it as a mural on the side of a building that faces a busy highway. And it’s not the only absolutely brain-curving promotional image from the show. Look at this one!

Discovery

And this one!

Discovery

And THIS one!

Discovery

I don’t know what it is exactly about these pictures that has taken over my entire brain, but rest assured, I will be staring at them until I figure it out. I will be thinking about this quote, too…

Belushi seems to have a special bond with his plants. He names them, talks to them, plays the harmonica to them. He even has a particular playlist that involves “baby-making music” in the morning, reggae around noon and blues and funk later in the day. “And then when I harvest them, I play gospel music for them to let them know that they’re going into the light to heal,” he said.

… but mostly, I will be staring at the pictures. I want to start living my entire life with “Jim Belushi on his weed farm” energy, which is not something I ever expected to type or think at any point in my life. And yet, here we are, with another reminder that the world is always about 20-25 percent weirder than you think it can possibly be.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — The funniest thing The Crown could do

This is the new teaser for the upcoming fourth season The Crown. The big story here is the introduction of Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, and you can see Diana in her wedding dress in the clip, which has set royal-watching types ablaze with excitement. I’m very happy for them. Everyone needs a few moments of joy right now, however you get them.

The teaser does bring up my favorite Crown-related issue, though, one that I’ve brought up when discussing other projects that are based on real-life events: There is nothing stopping them from taking a hard left this season and going full-on fan-fiction. How great would that be? Three seasons of painstaking historical accuracy and then, blammo, Jason Statham shows up in a tank and tells the Queen they’re under attack from, I don’t know, aliens from another galaxy. Or they can introduce The Joker out of nowhere. Let Olivia Colman defeat a supervillain in character as the Queen of England. The only thing limiting the possibilities is your own imagination, producers of The Crown.

I would enjoy this. I would enjoy this so much. Just for the anarchy of it all. The pure, unfiltered chaos that would rush forth from the British press when they get to, let’s say, episode six of the new season and Olivia Colman picks up a rocket launcher and blasts a spaceship out of the sky. Just turn the whole thing right onto its jewel-adorned head. Do it for me. And Olivia Colman. I think she would enjoy it, too. She seems very fun.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Levi:

As we’ve all seen, our lives have been completely changed with the pandemic. When do you think TV and movies will catch up to the pandemic, and feature characters living in a post-COVID world? Example: Detectives having to undergo 14 day quarantine because they might’ve came in contact with someone with symptoms? Or people wearing masks in tv shows? Or, fingers crossed, the rise of lucha libra wrestling?

Levi, this is an interesting question. I have two conflicting thoughts about it:

  • This is probably inevitable and will start as soon as this spring, once shows start figuring out how to work in these conditions and tell stories that feel real and relevant
  • I do not want it

I don’t know. Sometimes I like it when shows lean into current events to give the audience a look at the world from a new perspective. Lately, I… have not liked it. I don’t have the space in my brain for it. There’s enough going on in there right now, overloading the machinery and frying the motherboard as it tries to process a global pandemic that has been going on for almost six months now. I’m looking for an escape. I’m looking to shut things down for 30-60 minutes at a time, to have fun, to watch nice people goof around as though the world is not on fire. It’s one of the reasons I like Ted Lasso so much.

It’s probably also why I just pitched a bazooka-toting Queen of England battling aliens and/or The Joker. We’re all doing great out here!

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To England!

A British inventor who set out to create a more environmentally friendly ice cream truck broke a Guinness World Record when the food-dispensing vehicle was declared the world’s fastest.

Okay, first of all, hell yes. I am very much on-board with any story that introduces the concept of the world’s fastest ice cream truck in its opening sentence.

Second of all, HELL YES. Tell me everything about this at once.

Guinness said Edd China broke the record for the world’s fastest ice cream truck when he took it to a top speed of 73.921 mph at Elvington Airfield in Yorkshire, England.

Wait.

Hold on.

Hollllllllllld on.

The land speed record for an ice cream truck is only 74 miles an hour? That seems… low. I know ice cream trucks are not exactly aerodynamic missiles but… I mean, 74 miles an hour? I feel like we could break this as early as next month if we really put our minds to it. I bet you could find an old ice cream truck and outfit it with NOS and crack 80, no problem. This is suddenly very important to me. I want one of us to hold the record for the world’s fastest ice cream truck. I’m so consumed by it that I appear to have skipped right over the fact that the man who currently holds the record for the fastest ice cream truck is named Edd China.

This is madness.

The inventor said his ice cream truck originally had a Mercedes Sprinter diesel engine until he used his conversion kit to make it run on electricity.

China said he is hoping to make his conversion kit publicly available in the near future to allow ice cream trucks to continue their work without polluting the air.

You cannot imagine how much I want to live in a world where a fleet of environmentally safe ice cream trucks are screaming through the streets and drifting around hairpin turns while their drivers heave sprinkle-covered cones out the window in the general direction of delighted children who hurry out of their house to watch them zoom by like it’s a NASCAR race. In a way, it’s all I’ve ever wanted.

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