It’s also an undeniably impressive show merely in terms of scope and execution. Over seven episodes, Onion and John travel the country, and the production has an incredible eye, finding detail in period elements while also never making them look overly polished. Everything feels carefully considered but it’s also one of the sweatiest, dirtiest shows in a long time. And each episode is tightly directed, most of them coming in at around 45 minutes, with the season never succumbing to the midseason sag that has afflicted so much Prestige TV in the Netflix era.
One of the reasons for that last element is the extended ensemble, which allows for familiar faces to come forward for an episode or two and then fall back into the mix. The show belongs to Hawke and Johnson, but there are subtle small turns throughout all seven episodes, including fun performances from Steve Zahn, Maya Hawke, Beau Knapp, Natasha Marc, Wyatt Russell, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Orlando Jones, and more. (If there’s a flaw in narrative balance, it would be that the female characters are largely underwritten devices but Marc and Maya Hawke do make an impact with their single episodes.) There’s a blend of satire and historical fiction here that clearly invigorated the entire cast, as did being near the force of nature that is Hawke’s performance.
Where do speech and belief intersect with action? “The Good Lord Bird” is about a tumultuous time in American history, and it captures people rolling through it as they try to hold onto what they think is important in the grand scheme of things. John Brown may be “nuttier than a squirrel turd,” but Hawke captures the truth of a man who believed talk was no longer the answer. There are periods in history when the situation calls for people to get a little nutty.
Whole series screened for review.