The Good Lord Bird
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Adapted from James McBride’s historical novel, winner of the 2013 National Book Award, this ambitious new Showtime series somehow teeters between urgent historical epic and addictive, comedic entertainment. It’s told through the voice of a fictional 12-year-old former slave nicknamed Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson), who joins the legendary abolitionist John Brown (Ethan Hawke) on his holy crusade to end slavery, culminating in the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the catalysts for the Civil War.
They are joined by an unlikely army of freed slaves, Brown’s own sons, a Native American, a Jew, and the voice of God himself, channeled by Brown, an evangelical who is convincingly “touched” while simultaneously channel the deep-rooted rage of a nation boiling over from oppression.
What can seem like a wild-ride Coen brothers adventure-comedy on one level is actually a stirring exploration of history: a peeling away of the layers of religion, identity, and race that have intertwined to drive some of the biggest events that collectively shaped us.
Ethan Hawke’s performance, described as “incandescent” (Vanity Fair), combined with the narration from the once-enslaved Onion, opens the gates to a deeper look of what led to the Civil War, and what is ultimately still impacting our lives today.
Bloody violent in parts, The Good Lord Bird is TV-MA, so not recommended for under 17.
But this is a series you’ll want to talk about, and its episodes will be spread out for seven Sunday nights. Find a viewing buddy, or start a Binge Viewers Club here and we’ll help.