If you’re in the northern hemisphere, we’re in that time of year of dreary, freezing cold evenings, when going out seems a fool’s errand and a more appealing activity is sinking our teeth into a spooky mystery, preferably involving hauntings, secrets, and revenge. Of course, YA fiction provides.
Based on Jonathan Stroud’s young adult supernatural novels, Netflix‘s Lockwood and Co. brings the teen ghostbusting, haunted house energy we need in deep, dark winter from Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. As seen in his alien invasion favourite, Cornish’s series again puts young people at the forefront of a threat, the best fighting chance we have against malevolent forces.
Lockwood and Co. combines ghostbusting with several murder mysteries.
Riding the long-beloved, mystery-solving coattails of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Scooby-Doo gang, Lockwood and Co. joins a string of releases which see teens thrown into grown-up investigative jobs that require a certain amount of ass-kicking and a sprinkling of possibly supernatural activity.
Set in a world overrun by “The Problem,” a global crisis in which ghosts can (and do) kill people simply by touching them, Lockwood and Co. hinges around young psychical investigator Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), who runs his own wraith-hunting agency in London, battling ghosts with his trusty sidekick George Karim (Ali Hadji-Heshmati).
When powerfully psychic teen Lucy Carlyle (Ruby Stokes) joins the tiny agency, the trio work together to Scooby Doo this crap. But Lockwood has some skeletons in his closet (possibly, quite literally), and Lucy’s power might be larger than any of them can handle.
But why all the ghosts? The show’s context is spelled out in the opening credits through news headlines: millions of deaths have been caused by ghosts, a night curfew has been enforced, “economic shock” ensues, and materials including iron, silver, and salt are considered “our best defence.” Technology stocks have plummeted, and electronic devices made redundant. Meanwhile, young people are found to be more sensitive to ghosts than adults and are trained in specialised academies to eradicate these “visitors” from the world of the living. And it’s this world Cornish enjoys ample time to build.
Lockwood and Co. builds a world in genuine need of ghost hunters.
Lockwood and Co. does a comprehensive job at world-building within the global ghost crisis. Set in the UK, the series capitalises on England’s long history of haunted locations, the upper floors of pubs, countryside castles, cobwebbed mansions in the fancier parts of town. It’s something The Irregulars reveled in too, as the real streets of London heave with grisly true stories of murder and death, long rendering it appealing for authors to spin many a ghostly tale.
Being a series instead of a film, Cornish is able to spend time on the finer details, like what occurs within ghost-hunting training academies, the different ghost types, the gadgets and tools needed to fight ghosts, why certain industries like iron have flourished, and which ghost-hunting agencies are the top tier.
But Cornish is also able to render Lockwood, Lucy, and George’s investigation multi-tiered, intertwining it with other mysteries that at first seem like an unrelated Witcher side quest.
Despite being at the forefront of fighting The Problem, young people are constantly dismissed by adults in the series as “little shits,” refusing to give them any respect. “No backbone, your generation,” says crusty grave digging company owner Saunders. But young people are extremely aware of their currency, even though they’re monitored by the government’s Department of Psychical Research and Control (DEPRAC), the pervading authority, led by actually reasonable adult Inspector Barnes (Ivanno Jeremiah).
“To be honest, adults are pretty useless anyway,” says Lucy, to an adult client. “Because of their lack of sensitivity. They just get in the way.”
As a director, however, Cornish has absolute faith in young people as being better equipped to fight impending doom than stuffy grown ups ever could. Kids in this reality are forced into adulthood quicker than perhaps they ought to be, owning businesses, acting as genuine warriors, interrogating suspected adult criminals. It’s in their language, their manners, their weirdly Victorian home decor. They use archaic technology to study evidence and house ghostly items in glass museum cases. Newspapers are used for job ads instead of websites, everyone uses ’80s style landlines instead of smartphones, and VHS tapes are actually still useful.
Lockwood and Co. doesn’t just plunge the audience into a post-pandemic reality without dragging systemic inequality with it, however. Like fellow teen British detective tales The Irregulars and Enola Holmes, the series holds an examination of class at its core, with privilege and power still going hand-in-hand despite the world being overrun by murderous ghosts (it never ends). Outcasts, rogues, and relic hunters like the Thames’ best Flo Bones (a true highlight played by Hayley Konadu) scrape together a living in a city that makes it impossible, while wealth exempts those from the most dangerous work.
“We all make our living dealing with the dead,” says Flo. “Only difference is you’re caught in the cogs. Slaves to a system run by the rich. At least I’m free.”
Cemeteries are an industry in themselves, with newly created jobs including the night watch (“lowest pay, lowest life expectancy in the business”) developed to keep visitors in the ground, and ghost-tuned sensitives are either people “too scared to pick up a rapier or too posh to need to.” Even Lockwood calls his agency “mansion specialists” — surely giant country houses aren’t the only homes brimming with spirits, but perhaps their owners have more coin to drop.
Lockwood and Co. brings the core ghost-hunting trio to life.
At the heart of Lockwood and Co. is the titular agency and its only employees: eponymous owner Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman), trusty 2IC George Karim (Ali Hadji-Heshmati), and newcomer Lucy Carlyle (Ruby Stokes). Within our core trio, there’s a slight Harry/Hermione/Ron energy, especially with the burgeoning chemistry between Lucy and Lockwood and George’s third wheel claims. Within the creaking walls of the agency, they’re happily ghostbusting roommates, enjoying all the awkwardness that comes with sharing a house: busting into each other’s rooms in varying states of pantslessness, burning the toast, or simply sitting around the kitchen table with cups of tea or bottles of beer, scribbling ideas on the tablecloth.
Haunted by her past and the ghosts constantly in her head, Lucy is a complicated protagonist, the best Ghost Whisperer of the crew, and Stokes allows her to struggle with her developing powers while awarding her a no-nonsense attitude toward posh pricks. Stokes takes on the ever-challenging task of a psychic convincing an audience it’s literally all in their head, joining a long, valiant TV medium tradition from Alyssa Milano’s Phoebe Halliwell in Charmed to Patricia Arquette’s Allison Dubois in Medium. It’s never an easy task, but Stokes confidently conveys it, assisted by Cornish’s smart noise cancellation-style sound design that resembles The Last of Us‘ “listening mode.”
George is Lockwood’s Dr. Watson, his Rupert Giles, the genius academic of the group. Played with nerdy deadpan delight by Hadji-Heshmati, George deduces solutions with a real Jonathan Creek energy. Meanwhile, their boss Lockwood, played by Chapman as a grown-up entrepreneur in a teen’s body, is a mysterious young man from old money despite attempting to look like he doesn’t — “We’re mortgaged to the hilt George, I’m practically a serf.” Lockwood steers the series to hinge on an age-old emotional investment for the audience: keeping the protagonist’s rogue independent business open against all odds. But to make things interesting, the series plays a Mr. Rochester card, including a forbidden locked door in Lockwood’s second floor.
Lockwood and Co. appears to sit in a very specific target age demographic, taking back scary spaces for older teens in a way that would delight one Wednesday Addams. One thing I would caution is that every episode of Lockwood and Co. is haunted by many dark causes of death, so it’s pretty intense for younger teens. But being released in the deepest, darkest months of northern hemisphere winter, Lockwood and Co. is the kind of show useless grown-ups might also enjoy: a ghost hunting detective story that involves psychic powers and personal secrets to be uncovered. Grab a big cuppa and a blanket and settle in.