What They Say:
While looking into an epidemic in her Louisiana hometown, CDC investigator Abby Arcane discovers that the local swamps hold numerous secrets after her partner seemingly dies and transforms into Swamp Thing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’ll admit, I’ve been eager for all of the DC Universe productions as they were announced for different reasons. While Titans was a rough start, Doom Patrol has been the best show on TV this year for me. Stargirl has a lot of potential when it hits next year and the animated works are high on my list. But the series that had me the most excited was Swamp Thing when it was announced a year ago. With James Wan producing and Len Wiseman directing the first couple of episodes, that alone gave me a lot of confidence in it. As it began bringing on the cast, initially with Crystal Reed as I thought she was fantastic in the early seasons of Teen Wolf, I was sold. The cast is wonderfully fleshed out, such as Will Patton and Virginia Madsen and a lot of interesting teases coming up with Jennifer Beals and Ian Ziering. And how could I not love having Kevin Durand in something creepy like this?
Swamp Thing was one of those wondrous experiences for comic fans in the 80s when Alan Moore took it over and readers found ourselves on such an unexpected journey. That’s required tempering some expectations for the show because it has to ease into a lot of material that’s to come, make it accessible, and make it exciting. The opening episode did all that and more for me, giving us a Louisana bayou where someone is dumping some sort of accelerant with timers on them across the area. That’s giving rise to hot spots where nature isn’t exactly consciously alive but it’s attacking and spreading, killing those that it comes across and spreading like an infection that is now moving into the town of Marais. It’s into this tense situation with a little girl and two adults infected that CDC doctor Abby Arcane arrives as the local doctors are unable to figure out what’s going on.
Abby is from Marias originally but had left after graduation due to a complicated event and death that is pulsing just under the surface here. That gets two wonderful seasons where initially we see her dealing with Virginia Madsen, who harbors one hell of a grudge against Abby, and later with Alec Holland as she starts to reveal what happened but holds back against telling him too much. For Abby, that makes this mission a difficult one but it’s something that she can handle considering her job in hot zones around the world as part of a specialist CDC team. The problem, of course, is that this isn’t a naturally occurring virus but rather an engineered one. And that’s where Alec Holland comes in. He’s been poking around for a while, working for local prominent businessman Avery Sutherland, looking for natural resources within the swamp to exploit that could become cures, vaccines, or something that will revitalize the town. That it happens just as everything else is underway is naturally suspicious.
The opening episode works through the introductions of a good cast of characters, sets us up for some interesting locations to work with, and draws you into the creation of the title character by the end, which is played by a different actor than the non-transformed version. The cost of working on water-based sets is supposedly one of the big reasons that the show had its episode count reduced from thirteen to ten as it ballooned past what the previous two live-action series did on the service. Which is unfortunate because I wrapped up this first episode already craving more than the season is producing. There’s a really good creepy supernatural southern gothic style horror piece here but it’s not leaning so hard into the southern part as you might expect. I’m not from there so I’m hesitant to say it’s respectful but it plays into familiar swamp town aspects while not overexaggerating the locale and its people as a whole, which was a big plus. It’s got a good round of sets, the whole thing feels appropriately creepy, and it’s incredibly easy to be drawn into this world.
Crystal Reed was the big hook for me in getting into this and I’m excited to see her grow as Abby considering the source material and the relationship that grows from it. I really enjoyed watching Andy Bean as Alec, however, because he has that kind of quirky scientist thing going without it being done to an annoying point. There’s a way to how he presents certain sentences, movements, inflections almost, that sets him apart from the locals (and people elsewhere) but not in a way where he’d stand out. It’s subtle but intriguing. Henderson Wade has me really glad he jumped off Riverdale to join this production as he’s fantastic in the limited role so far as Matt Cable as the local cop that knew Abby when they were both younger. The elder side of the cast is fantastic as well, such as the previously mentioned Virginia Madsen. I’m excited to see how she plays into things and as she gets to work off Will Patton, who is as he always is, and that’s just spot on perfect.
I grew up with the early 80s Swamp Thing movie and I managed to thankfully avoid the animated work, though I was sadly exposed to the theme song for it again recently. Swamp Thing is a property that could go horribly wrong very easily for a whole range of reasons. I’ve been hugely excited for it since it was announced and more so after the first teasers and trailers hit. This opener did everything right in my book to establish everything, hit the right horror notes, deliver a lot of tension, and feel like it’s just a hair away from happening. I always use family members that are nowhere near as invested as I am in these things – often not seeing anything about it until the show is out and I get them to watch – but seeing the reactions as we hit the end of the episode and they realize this is a weekly show and not a binge show makes it very clear how well it went over. I’m excited for what’s to come.