Following the runaway success of Wednesday and Stranger Things, Netflix has gambled on another gothy young adult show, similarly primed to become impressionable teens’ entire personalities. Lockwood and Co – created by Joe Cornish – is a lore-heavy supernatural series set in an alternative modern Britain where an epidemic of ghosts has raged for 50 years, but the only people able to see and fight them are children. To deal with “the problem” there are ghost-hunting agencies run by adults, who use the children to locate the angry spirits and destroy the “source” from which they emanate.
Despite the title, the central role is held by Lucy Carlisle (played by Ruby Stokes), and much of the first episode is devoted to her origin story, starting as a 12-year-old who can hear ghosts. Her northern town is filled with disaffected, unemployed adults, and she is sent to work at an adult-run agency by a brutal mother who growls that she has no choice as “your father left us with nothing when he drank himself to death”.
Lucy’s talents prove exemplary, but when a job ends in tragedy, she sets off to London to find employment and ends up joining the new, teen-run agency of the dashing young Anthony Lockwood (Cameron Chapman) and his brilliant but downbeat young colleague George (Ali Hadji-Heshmati).
Now, finally free of the tyranny of adults, the central mystery kicks off with Lockwood and Lucy armed to the teeth as they approach a haunted house, firing off one-liners and complex mission tactics while remaining cool as cucumbers about the inevitable horrors within. The elderly homeowner is more shaken; looking at the two teens she grimly states: “When I was your age, I was out chasing boys, having fun. It’s terrible the world has come to this.” The eyes practically roll out of the heads of our young actors as they sarcastically respond: “Cheerful soul … A real ray of sunshine.” There’s a similar playfulness to much of the show’s dialogue, which features lines that could be lifted out of tedious Christmas dinners where older relatives lament TikTok addiction.
Each of the central trio gives striking and nuanced performances, avoiding the pitfalls of simplistic stereotypes that populate so many teen shows. And rather than get caught up in giant dumps of exposition to establish the rules of ghost hunting quickly, the show prioritises defining precisely who these characters are.
Ruby Stokes’s uncanny resemblance to Florence Pugh serves her in good stead, as she seems capable of building an equally exemplary filmography. Writer/director Cornish, probably still best known as the Joe in Adam and Joe, proves that discovering John Boyega in his directorial debut Attack the Block was no fluke, and he has a true knack for nurturing young talent. While Cornish doesn’t revolutionise the genre, he avoids the soapy naffness of lesser young adult adaptations and creates an air of prestige with sharp quips and elegant sword fighting. Watching it as an adult, it’s hard not to envy a younger generation who get to settle into spooky fare that’s so unproblematically fun and funny – even if the field of shows about precocious teenagers battling the paranormal is overcrowded.
There’s a proudly British sensibility to the show, with nods to the sleuthing of Sherlock Holmes, the antiquarian Victorian horror stories of MR James and the occult sagas of Algernon Blackwood. The series is faithfully adapted from the novels of Jonathan Stroud and covers the events of the first two books. The first three episodes adapt The Screaming Staircase and the latter five cover The Whispering Skull.
While this does mean it neatly cleaves into two fun binge-watching sessions, it does lead to serious pacing issues in the final episodes, with some of the twists being sign-posted and, at times, our plucky trio narratively, and figuratively, treading water. Nonetheless, there are mysteries, sword fights and jump scares aplenty, as well as some marvellous supporting turns from Ivanno Jeremiah as the no-nonsense Inspector Barnes and Luke Treadaway as The Golden Blade, who strike the perfect balance of camp and gravitas.
Aptly, for a show that is about teenagers and their agency in every sense of the word, the show never overly concerns itself with the world of adults. For members of a young generation who want to get spirited away by ghosts and whimsy, Lockwood and Co is a delight, with a level of intelligence and respect for its source material, its characters and its audience.