This show was on my list, the members of the cast I knew put it higher on that list but I let the premiere pass me by. I then saw images of a young boy wearing a dress, and I wondered why that was, that’s how I got to watch this show. James McBride wrote “The Good Lord Bird“ in 2013 and it was main star Ethan Hawke (Tesla, Predestination) and screenwriter Mark Richard, who created this historical drama. The pair produced it with Jason Blum‘s Blumhouse Television production company.
They’ve managed to assemble quite the cast to appear alongside Hawke’s John Brown, Joshua Caleb Johnson (Snowfall) as Henry “Onion” Shackleford, Beau Knapp (L.A.’s Finest, Seven Seconds, Measure of a Man) as Owen Brown, Hubert Point-du Jour (Blindspot) as Bob, Mo Brings Plenty (The Revenant, The Glorias) as Ottawa Jones, Jack Alcott (The Blacklist) as Jason B. Brown, Ellar Coltrane (The Circle, Boyhood) as Salmon Brown, and Nick Eversman (The Duff, Wild) as John Brown Junior.
Premise: Told from the point of view of Henry Shackleford, a fictional enslaved boy, who is part of John Brown’s motley crew of abolitionist soldiers during the time of Bleeding Kansas, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Army depot at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Brown’s raid was the instigating event that started the American Civil War.
Review: “All of this is true. Most of it happened.” quote before every episode kind of sets the tone for the whole series, that and the ‘beginning is the end’ first scene, we got at the start of the show.
The story is not one that I knew, John Brown was not and historical figure I was familiar with so this show is basically my introduction to the man and I have t say that I was both surprised and wary of him. The show is a weird but fascinating history lesson, the absurd comedy throughout the series is very enjoyable. It lightens the show without taking away the horrors of slavery and the importance of the antiracism movement of the time – that I still can’t believe excited. Not that I expected every American of the time to be horrible pieces of sh!t that only saw people of color as commodities, I just had a hard time imagining that people like John Brown existed in the extreme that he’s depicted here.
The esthetic of the show is also very interesting, the actors and places look dirty and grimy in locations rooted in slavery, given a subtle visual cue to the rot in these places. The era allows for a Western iconography that comes with amazing landscapes and beautiful cinematography. There are fiery impressive action sequences that manages to blend in perfectly with the comedy peppered in the show.
The comedy, the drama and a lot of the things that make this show work is the cast, whether guest-staring like David Morse (Blindspot, The Green Mile) and Crystal Lee Brown (Mindhunter, Hidden Figures), or recurring like Daveed Diggs (Snowpiercer, Hamilton), Wyatt Russell (Falcon, Overlord), or Maya Hawke (Stranger Things) the ensemble is amazing. They are hilarious and poignant, Hawke’s John Brown is a silly old man with a huge heart and a dash of crazy, Onion and Bob cracked me up the whole time. The level of talent is staggering, I see awards going to this show and more work coming for this cast whether established or not.
The Good Lord Bird is a fascinating show with an interesting tone and great acting. A roller coaster of emotions well worth the ride.
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