Donald Glover (“Atlanta”) and Janine Nabers, are the creative forces behind a new Amazon Prime series called “Swarm.” The series is set in Houston, until it takes our heroine on the road to a variety of cities, seemingly summoning memories of real-life fan-obsessed happenings in those cities. (The episodes are represented by a date and a label.)
It is a super violent series starring Dominique Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) as an obsessed fan of a Black singer obviously modeled on Beyonce. The series contains the message upfront, “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to people living and dead is intentional.”
The Black songstress, Ni’Jah Hutton (Nirine S. Brown) is about to embark on the Evolution Tour. Dre (Dominique Fishback) is so obsessed with Ni’Jah that any criticism or failure to appreciate the singer’s work as spectacular personally offends Dre, to the point of no return for the critical fan.
The first episode, which screened at SXSW on March 10th, built the relationship between Dre, her longtime best friend and roommate Marissa (Chloe Bailey) and Marissa’s boyfriend Khalid (Damson Idris). Marissa has achieved success as a make-up artist and Khalid—although he does not live with the girls—is always around. Dre’s reaction to a sex scene she unintentionally witnesses between Marissa and Khalid gives us a hint about Dre’s disdain for such emotional entanglements.
The cast, especially Dominique Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), is good. Dre (Dominique Fishback) has some serious mental issues, not the least of which is the ability to kill very energetically without much provocation. Watching someone bludgeoning another human being to death, especially those who have done nothing to deserve it, is not my idea of “entertainment.” [If it were, we would all be enjoying the mass shootings that seem to have reached epidemic proportions in the United States]. Yes, the victim failed to properly appreciate Dre’s singer of choice, but that hardly seems to merit death—except in “Swarm.” Social commentary, yes, and a good thing for this generation of social media-obsessed youth to ponder.
Call me old-fashioned. Or ask if you, too, want a modicum of violence, but not in such huge gratuitous doses with the violence being the entire plot focus. When I’m watching a character serially murder others with very little emotion (“Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer”), I want to feel that the victim has done something to deserve it (even though that is not usually the case). Yes, I know that the Jeffrey Dahmer/Ted Bundy stories have been ratings winners. I’m just not a huge fan of mindless gore or violence for the sake of gratuitous gore or violence (which is why I disliked “Evil Dead Rise,” another SXSW film.). I’m a former active voting member of Horror Writers’ Association, so it’s not that I can’t handle blood and gore in moderation. (My novel series: “The Color of Evil.”) But I also swore off 80s slasher films after a while.
There is a lot of mindless violence in this series. Later in the series, I have read, we are going to learn more about the motivation for Dre’s devotion to mayhem, but all we saw on March 10th was a proclamation that Dre has eschewed sex and its ability to control as counter-productive, probably because of the influence of her roommate Marissa.
The theme of unbridled fan enthusiasm is a good new one to explore. The Taylor Swift ticket fiasco even provoked Congressional hearings, and my daughter used to work for Ms. Swift. I’m all for unbridled fan enthusiasm, Beehive or Swifty, and the music is great from the outset, as are the costumes. The camerawork on film by Drew Daniels is excellent as is the direction by Donald Glover, Adamma Ebo (“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul”), Ibra Ake, and Stephen Glover. In the series’ sometimes intentionally campy fashion, it will play buzzing sounds when Dre is ramping up for the next violent act. The score by Michael Uzowuru is great.
While the acting is fine, there is a lot of what I will call “stunt casting.” Paris Jackson (daughter of Michael Jackson) has a substantial role in the first episode. Billie Eilish is in one episode as Eva and shows real promise. Rory Culkin, brother of Macauley, shows up (sans clothing) as a one-night stand of Dre’s. Stephen Glover, who also appeared in “Atlanta,” is a presence and wrote two episodes.
And while we’re mentioning the writing, Malia Obama worked with Nabers to pen the episode “Girl, Bye.” She is credited as a staff writer.
I am not the target audience for this series. I found myself wondering about such practicalities as the disposal of bodies. That is probably from writing novels, where you realize that a keen reader will be calling you out on “plot holes.” We’re all aware of the clean-up of mayhem that we’ve seen Liev Schreiber and Harvey Keitel handle as “fixers” (“Ray Donovan,” “Pulp Fiction”). Even in “The Sopranos” murders would lead to giving Tony Soprano a call to help with clean-up.
In the episodes of “Swarm” that I saw there was little forethought or planning prior to the murders; therefore, there were many plot holes that pointed to potential problems for the perpetrator. I can’t imagine that we are going to be following obsessed fan Dre into prison, but, judging from the lack of any meaningful plotting before she commits the murder, that would be a logical conclusion for the 7 episode series.
“Swarm” will air on Prime Video. The Amazon project premiered at SXSW on Friday, March 10 was being released everywhere a week later.