“Good Lord Bird” Finally Reaches Television Screens

    “The Good Lord Bird” has not received what you could call kid-glove treatment from Showtime. It was announced for Feb. 16 but pulled, then rescheduled for Aug. 9 and pulled again. It will finally premiere, without much fanfare, this Sunday. It’s curious treatment for a prestige mini-series based on a National Book Award-winning novel that was spearheaded by and stars one of America’s most accomplished actors.

    And it’s a shame, because “The Good Lord Bird” — a seven-episode adaptation of James McBride’s 2013 novel — is fine entertainment, capturing some measure of McBride’s jaunty, irreverent humor and featuring an absorbing performance by Ethan Hawke, who created the series (with the writer Mark Richard) and plays the central role of the messianic abolitionist John Brown.

    We can only speculate about the reasons for the delays (the show was certainly ready before the coronavirus hit). Maybe there was some nervousness about the story’s sometimes irreverent approach in its depictions of slavery and of the attitudes and actions of Black people, in pre-Civil War America. Perhaps, as the tumultuous events of 2020 played out, there was also some nervousness about presenting such a story in a series developed by two white men from a Black writer’s novel.

    If there were any such concerns, we can see now that they were misplaced. Working with a directing and writing team that included established Black artists like Albert Hughes, Darnell Martin, Kevin Hooks and Erika L. Johnson (and with McBride as an executive producer), Hawke and Richard have if anything been too respectful of the book’s themes and plot. “The Good Lord Bird” has some dull patches in its later episodes, which probably could have been avoided if someone had been more ruthless and inventive in remaking the story for the screen.



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