Lore Season 1 Review (Spoiler-Free)

Despite its new media origins, Lore is a satisfying throwback to educational TV

The most interesting aspect about Lore is that it’s on Amazon Prime.

On the surface, it seems like the marriage between a popular podcast and a powerful retail/media/everything conglomerate would be a no-brainer and in that sense it does. In practice, however, Lore plays much differently than an adaptation of a new media property like a podcast. It’s really a public access or PBS-style edutainment program.

By bringing Lore to its streaming service in the historical reenactment-heavy manner that is has, Amazon seems to be acknowledging something important about the nature of television in a subtle way. Of course every streaming service wants a flagship drama like The Handmaid’s Tale or an endlessly bingeable hangout comedy like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But if streaming services want to continue to take on the role of traditional television, they’ll need some more of the hard to categorize fringes of television. They’ll need shows like Lore.

Lore is more than just shrewd business move from a shrewd business entity, it’s also a decent enough show.

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Lore comes from the mind of Boston-based writer Aaron Mahnke. Mahnke turned his own fascination with history, the macabre, and macabre history into a modest podcasting empire. He began Lore relatively late into the podcast boom in early 2015 but it soon rose to the top of the charts due to its historically accurate and entertaining deep dives into various folkloric concepts like witches and werewolves or even dark takes on basic human topics like hunger and fire.

With podcasts being picked up left and right by eager media empires, it was only a matter of time before the stream came calling for Lore. When it did it came in the form of Walking Dead/Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd and Amazon Studios.

Lore seems like it would have been an interesting challenge to adapt. Other podcasts like Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave was easily able to take on a Pawn Stars-esque format in Comic Book Men. Marc Maron rode the success of his WTF with Marc Maron show into a traditional, if acerbic sitcom. Lore, however, features just one person telling stories about history.

In the end, Hurd and company opted to just “do the podcast.” This means having Mahnke narrate his historical musings as he normally would as the events play out through animation, actors reenacting events and stock footage (usually photography).

The hodgepodge of mediums works out much better than one would imagine. The visual elements add a level of depth and humanity not always readily apparent on the podcast. The reenactments with actors takes up the vast majority of screen time and are almost uniformly interesting and even moreso when augmented with actual photos.

Due to the reenactments, Lore heavily resembles an educational PBS show. I’m heavily reminded of the show Wishbone, weird as it may sound. I don’t recall a human heart being carved out of a woman’s chest or an ice pick being shoved into someone’s eye socket on Wishbone but the comparison is still apt.

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In fact, Lore strikes me as something that the younger crowd will really enjoy. The thought of that likely makes Amazon’s skin crawl as this is a dark, at times deeply disturbing show. Regardless, it’s the kind of darkness that we all kind of secretly agree is perfect for children despite never wanting to admit so in mixed company.

Lore is ultimately a worthwhile endeavor but does suffer from some drawbacks.

Ironically, the audio portion of the show is lacking. Mahnke’s unpolished narration style is a good fit for the DIY podcast medium. When combined with high quality reenactments, however, it takes some getting used to. There are times when he appears to want to come across as dispassionate and instead just sounds like Microsoft Sam.

The other issue at hand is that through the three episodes screened for critics, there is a relatively wide quality gap from episode to episode depending on the topic. Lore, the podcast, suffers from a similar issue. The first episode of the series is absolutely fascinating and by far the best of the three. It deals with a death-adjacent topic in an empathetic and human way. It also doesn’t reveal the “folklore” angle until the very last minute and does so in a very satisfying way.

The second episode has a plenty subject matter with not as strong an execution as the first and the third is just kind of bleak and uninteresting.

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Ultimately, Lore represents a positive step in the continued takeover of traditional TV properties by streaming services. Like the podcast, however, you may want to choose to watch whichever topics interest you. It’s also a win for the burgeoning horror anthology genre. Unlike with other anthologies, however, you may want to pick and choose which episodes and topics you watch with this one.

Rating:

3 out of 5