Lockwood & Co episodes 1- 3 reviewed


Based on a series of books by Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co is being bigged up as a key new Netflix show with one reviewer even going so far as to suggest it could be as big as Stranger Things. That would be good though I suspect it’s just a little too English to hit those heights but nonetheless it seems to have had a good reception. Not that it shares much with that other series by the way except for focussing on kids taking on evil. There’s something old fashioned about Lockwood & Co which is best manifested by some great scares, a lot of slightly posh banter, a complete lack of smartphones and an emphasis on the importance of very English things like breakfast and cups of tea. Although some of the production appears to suggest modern day, it is an alternative timeline as there are still newspapers aplenty and when a mobile phone does appear it is one of those brick sized examples complete with an aerial. After so many modern dramas amp up the tech to appeal to younger viewers its very satisfying indeed to see something that chooses to rely on something more inventive.


Beware - spoilers past this point..


In an alternative London lethal ghosts have become what is known as “the problem” causing a nightly curfew, mounting deaths and the creation of ghost fighting agencies using more psycho sensitive teenagers as their operatives though run by adults. A talented `listener`, Lucy Carlyle joins one of these only to be set up to take the blame when a mission goes wrong so she flees the countryside and heads for London. Turned down by the big agencies, her last throw of the dice is the unknown Lockwood & Co whose advert describes them as “prestigious”. In fact they turn out to be two teenage boys living in a large old house that does seem amply stocked with the tools needed to deal with any apparition. So, she is recruited to become their third member.

Like a lot of new series it takes its time to warm up, the early scenes bat back from the present to the past summing up the main character’s story as well as laying out the overall scenario. If at times the production is a little too eager to place a lot of cards on the table, it does so with a style and charm that will soon warm up the viewer. Rather than over dazzle with a miasma of effects, the spectral happenings are sparingly but effectively deployed during the opening episode. The results are impressive even if some of the scenarios verge on the familiar. There’s an intelligence to the story which brims with interesting and unusual ideas. Though I’ve never read the books, the adaptation- by Joe Cornish who also directs the opening closing episodes- works really well for a tv series. 

 In the main role of Lucy, Ruby Stokes has to carry the main weight of the story and does so with aplomb. The character could easily be too over confident but the production and actor pitch it just right (and presumably this takes from the source novels) so that the viewer will like her quite quickly. Her loyalty and responses balance out her abilities. Cameron Chapman as the enigmatic Lockwood enjoys a similar arc because it is a character who could appear too smug but the actor gives him a lighter touch at times. The presence of Ali Hadji-Heshmati as the deadpan witty George Karim, the third member of the fledgling agency ensures matters don’t get too overly serious.

 Of course, ghosts are a genre with well worn tropes and a few of them are present here including a door at the top of the stairs which Lucy is told cannot be opened (I really hope this turns out to be a gag or something non ghostly) and a female ghost screaming as she hurtles towards the camera (this is done really well actually) but there’s imagination at work too. The sense that something is different, that the narrative will stray beyond the expected boundaries is palpable by the climactic end of the episode which brings thrills aplenty with dangling peril and a burning house. There are ongoing mysteries and the notion of someone frozen in perpetual fear as Lucy’s best friend is in one of the flashbacks is certainly a chiller to be savoured. I like the fact that already the kids seem out of their depth but the final twenty minutes really show the potential of this scenario to deliver thrills and interesting ideas.

 The second episode adds a welcome dash of the eccentric as well as some context for the characters. I’ve worked out, not just from on screen clues like the brick sized phone but just the choice of music, that the producers really like the 80s. I mean, when else would The Cure soundtrack a fight sequence. The episode highlights the relative naivety of the trio as they face unwelcome opposition from the authorities, an eye watering bill for the burned down house and even rivals. Differences are exposed which add a more human side to each of the three, especially a little chat between Lucy and George which gives the latter a lot more depth in just a handful of sentences. I suspect the show is edging towards some sort of will they/ won’t they vibe in the relationship between Lockwood and Lucy but it’s low key at the moment. Lockwood is an intriguing character whose ability to either talk or otherwise get himself out of tight spots has more than a hint of Doctor Who or that little known but excellent series Strange about it. I sense there is more to learn about him.

 The spooky sequences continue to impress as our mystery murder victim haunts horizontally and whose ring is able to conjure up strange visions for Ruby which are depicted really well. Its not always the effects sequences that are the most gripping either- one scene in an interrogation room where Inspector Barnes tests Lucy’s skills with the alleged killer on the other side of the glass is powerfully rendered. The battle with the unknown intruder in the house is staged really well; the untidy, busy space providing extra awkward angles for sword fighting. The rapiers incidentally are clearly a signature thing for the show and give it an unexpected quirkiness.

The third episode is a terrific haunted house set piece because a series like this needs a big old haunted house! The gang are unexpectedly called in by the eminent business magnate John Fairfax (a theatrical Nigel Planer) who offers to pay the £60K they owe if they can clear ghosts from one of his country piles. The house looks familiar, I’m sure it’s been in several other productions, and is the setting for some wonderfully ghoulish material. There’s blood travelling across the ceiling and down the walls, a hidden cellar, a care of chanting ghost minks (who all apparently committed suicide hundreds of years ago) and a well where their bodies are buried. What you notice too is the relatively unobtrusive incidental music which gives the visuals a chance to breathe. Too many series reach for the choirs or the big beats too regularly, here the music has a lingering presence that works especially well in the more tense moments. You could say it is ghostly.

 Fairfax turns out to be the murderer they’ve been looking for and the mission is a trap but the authorities have been watching them too. The series pivots well on these plot turns as it continually builds barriers- sometimes ghostly, sometimes human- to trick our protagonists. The three leads’ burgeoning chemistry has developed really quickly though it’s a different vibe to something like Stranger Things which thrives on cultural references. Unable to refer to the likes of pop stars or TikTok to make a point allows the scripts to be more creative thus there is more substantial character development and interaction.

 For a series ostensibly about fantasy matters, the narrative also keeps the more human plots bubbling nicely too. Suggestions of cover ups and corruption are never far away and Ivanno Jeremiah’s Inspector Barnes is becoming a more interesting character as he starts to sense he is also something of a pawn. The denouement to his episode is a little cheeky (why did Lucy bring the ring with her anyway?) but opens up more possibilities moving forward.


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