‘Swarm’ delivers a stinging satire about excessive fandom
Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
The producers of “Swarm,” a new Amazon series co-created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, have issued a “Do not spoil” list that precludes detailing much about the show beyond the fact the seven episodes were shot in color. But there is a lot to be said about the limited series’ provocative view of fan culture, and how such loyalty can turn into obsession.
Glover has clearly marched to the beat of his own drummer in terms of his TV work, with “Atlanta,” which recently completed its run, serving as a prime example of that. “Swarm,” too, is almost defiantly weird, in a mish-mash of styles and themes that draws from biting satire, understated comedy and most pointedly of all, horror, in a way that recalls some of Jordan Peele’s post-“Get Out” films.
All of those things are helped immeasurably, it turns out, by casting Dominique Fishback (whose credits include “The Deuce” and “Judas and the Black Messiah”) as Dre, the central figure in a show that opens with her character experiencing a tragedy, then dealing with the aftermath of that on the city-hopping journey that follows.
When introduced, Dre is an awkward person who shares a strong bond with her friend Marissa (Chloé Bailey), which includes their passion for a musical star named Ni’Jah, who is very definitely intended to be confused with Beyoncé. Indeed, Ni’Jah’s most ardent fans refer to themselves as the Swarm, a not-so-veiled nod to the contingent known as the BeyHive.
Left to her own devices, Dre seems almost rudderless, sleepwalking her way through encounters, with Ni’Jah essentially serving as the light that guides her from place to place. The result, in a characteristically Glover-ian way, is a lot of weird detours and a narrative that unfolds at its own grinding pace without appearing to be in any hurry to divulge what the broader point might be.
Patience, however, is rewarded, as the bigger picture — and how Dre’s back story informs it — gradually takes shape in the final three episodes. And the gist of it, ultimately, is the corrosive effects of engaging in blind hero worship, basically turning one’s life over to somebody that you don’t even know.
“Swarm” certainly isn’t for everyone, and without spoiling anything, viewers should be forewarned that it is dark, violent and occasionally unsettling. Yet the theme that the show tackles feels significant enough to deserve a hearing in this age where people form communities around Internet-connected passions, and Fishback is one of those performers who can keep you riveted without uttering a word, speaking volumes with the pain and longing in her eyes.
To Dre, there can be no greater transgression than disrespecting Ni’Jah. “Swarm” contemplates where that kind of mentality can lead, and if it doesn’t always work in justifying its prolonged beats, the show delivers enough of a sting, finally, to more than earn your respect.
“Swarm” premieres March 17 on Amazon’s Prime Video.
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