Sometimes there are shows that hinge on one performance, namely the lead. It could be the way the show is structured, or just because it concentrates so heavily on a single character. A new Prime Video series co-created by Donald Glover is a very good example of this. Thankfully, it has a lead performance that makes the series very watchable.
SWARM: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead, or actual events, is intentional.” “Houston Texas, April 2016.” We hear buzzing sounds. A clock counts down from 10 seconds to zero. A woman wakes up in front of a poster of a singer named Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown).
The Gist: Dre (Dominique Fishback) is one of Ni’Jah’s biggest fans, and she and her sister Marissa (Chloe Bailey) have been following her since they were kids. Dre still tweets as “The Swarm”, representing the group of the singer’s most ardent fans.
Dre gets up, finds the new Discover card she recently got, and hops online to get tickets to Ni’Jah’s latest tour; the only seats left are $1800, and even though Dre couldn’t afford them in a million years, she gets them anyway. Then she peers into her sister’s room and sees her getting it from behind from her boyfriend Khalid (Nirine S. Brown), who sees Dre watching and smiles. He knows that Dre is a virgin and is very, very curious.
Dre and Marissa are as close as two sisters can be; they even work at the same t-shirt kiosk at the mall. Marissa wants to be a makeup artist and start growing up; she’s still a fan of Ni’Jah but isn’t nearly as obsessed with her as Dre is.
After a night of getting high — Dre doesn’t drink but smoked with her sister because Marissa said it’ll “help at parties” — Dre comes in late to work. It’s a shitty day at the mall; Khalid tells Dre he can help her lose her virginity, and then two vandals lay waste to the kiosk while she’s away from it. When she gets home, she and Marissa have an argument about Khalid; Marissa says that it’s time for her to move in with him and quit the mall.
That night, Ni’Jah drops a surprise album, and the Swarm burns up Twitter talking about the videos. Empowered, Dre dresses up and goes to a club, where she meets a guy (Rory Culkin); they eventually go back to his place. But her phone dies, and when she plugs it in, she sees frantic texts from Marissa telling her that Khalid cheated on her and is distraught listening to the new album. When Dre gets home, though, it’s too late.
Of course, Dre is despondent. And when she goes to the funeral, the family — her family — asks her to leave. She goes to see Khalid, and the swarming noise she hears invades her head. When that happens, there’s not telling what she’s capable of.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Since Donald Glover co-created Swarm, with Janine Nabers (Watchmen), the artsy feel of Atlanta is omnipresent. In a way, it also feels a bit like Poker Face, as Dre is always on the move. Except here, she’s killing people instead of solving murders.
Our Take: Until the last few moments of Swarm‘s first episode, we didn’t know what to make of Fishback as Dre. We’ve generally liked her in previous roles, but it felt like she was playing Dre as someone who wasn’t just obsessed with this fictional singer, but someone who was exceedingly naïve and immature. For one reason or another, Dre comes off during most of the first episode as a person who’s holding onto the same fantasy she had when she was a young teenager, almost to the detriment of her ability to exist as an adult.
But things turned as soon as Dre bashed in Khalid’s head. Listen, we knew where this was going, but it feels like Dre came together as a character as soon as she became a killer. Fishback’s manner changed. Yes, Dre is still a too-obsessed fan of Ni’Jah. And yes, she’s still hanging on to a fantasy about being “connected” to her that borders on stalkerish. But now she has a purpose, and that purpose comes through in Fishback’s performance in the second episode.
The second episode takes place about a year later, in Tennessee. Dre has taken a job as a stripper in order to track down a guy on Twitter who not only dragged Marissa after she died, but Ni’Jah as well. One of her fellow strippers (Paris Jackson) befriends her, and Dre “helps” her out with her abusive boyfriend. But by then, Dre has gotten the taste for murder, and the body count in the second episode is definitely higher than in the first.
By the way, we’re not blind to the fact that Ni’Jah’s fans are called “The Swarm.” Any and all allusions to Beyoncé and her fans aren’t exactly heavily veiled in Swarm. Could any of them become murderous? Who knows. But Dre’s obsessiveness with Ni’Jah is a sign that something isn’t quite right with her, and we hear that when it comes to the swarm that buzzes in her head before she takes action on someone’s head.
As Dre goes through her life somehow getting away with murder, it’ll be interesting to see how her mental illness will both help and hurt her. At some point, will she be found out as a serial killer? Or will she become the person she’s wanted to be and get away with everything? We can’t wait to find out.
Sex and Skin: Yep, there’s lots of it, for both men and women. There’s even a scene where Culkin’s character has his penis pressed up against a jar of berries.
Parting Shot: As she breathlessly panics over killing Khalid, she’s also excited at the same time. For some reason, she takes a pie out of the fridge and starts eating it with her bloody hands.
Sleeper Star: Chloe Bailey is about as far away from the Chloe x Halle days as you can get as Marissa. But she does a good job, even in the episodes where we just see her doing makeup videos on YouTube.
Most Pilot-y Line: “The smoking made me late,” whispers Dre as she runs to the t-shirt kiosk, disheveled and late for work. We guess saying “the smoking” is supposed to be funny, but it actually makes her sound like she’s 90 years old.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Fishback is the key to the watchability of Swarm. As her character becomes a more experienced killer, Fishback becomes more confident in her performance. The show is definitely stylishly shot (Glover directed the first episode), but much of that would be empty without Fishback’s performance.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.
The post Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Swarm’ On Prime Video, Where A Singer’s Superfan Goes On A Killing Spree appeared first on Decider.