TV: Kindred

Hulu’s Kindred, based on the Octavia E. Butler novel, came and went without fanfare during the pandemic. It was canceled the month after its release, an unjust fate for a worthy project that, while its lack of broad appeal is certainly understandable, tackled challenging, unique source material with fine production values and ferocious performances.

In 2016, Dana James (a superb Mallori Johnson) buys a house in Los Angeles to move closer to her aunt and uncle—the last remaining family in her life, since her mother disappeared years earlier. After an ill-fated dinner with them, the distraught Dana accepts a ride home from quirky, charming waiter Kevin (Micah Stock), who served them and witnessed the family drama. The two make a connection, which draws Kevin into the bizarre scenario that follows: Dana, who is Black, is pulled through time to a plantation in Maryland, where she encounters her missing mother, Olivia (Sheria Irving). What follows is a surreal mystery that sees Dana and Kevin yanked back and forth through time to an era that appears to have ancestral connections to Dana’s family. Fighting through the condescending skepticism of her family in her own era, Dana works to unravel the reasons for her time-bending predicament, while Kevin comes face to face with the privileges of his time as he’s forced to pose as Dana’s owner in the slavery-era past.

Be forewarned: Kindred does not resolve, ending on a cliffhanger after one season. This makes it cancellation all the more tragic, but doesn’t make me at all upset that I spent eight episodes with it. The lack of resolution is definitely disappointing, but the show is still successful as an examination of the dark (or should I say, even darker) sociopolitical climate of America’s past—seen through the eyes of an extremely sympathetic, modern, interracial couple. Here, in particular, is the show’s greatest strength: the performances of Johnson and Stock are sensational as they enact unconventional partners with real chemistry. There’s plenty of acting firepower surrounding them, with Ryan Kwanten and Gayle Rankin standing out for their despicable villainy as the plantation owners, and Irving, Sophina Brown, and Austin Smith providing able support. Given the truncated run and difficult subject matter, Kindred will likely be a tough sell for most viewers, but I enjoyed it, and especially hope that it puts Johnson and Stock on the map for other juicy roles.

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