Donald Glover and Janine Nabors deliver a horrifying and visceral experience led by Dominique FIshback’s haunting performance.
Plot: Set between 2016-2018, the series follows Dre, an obsessed fan of the world’s biggest pop star who sets off on an unexpected cross-country journey.
Review: When Donald Glover left Community in 2014, he was viewed as a talented actor and musician on the rise. But, when Atlanta premiered in 2016, Glover was viewed as a multi-hyphenate by adding auteur to his resume. During its four-season run, the FX series defied categorization, touching on comedy, drama, satire, and horror. After signing a big deal with Amazon, Glover delves further into the void of the surreal and dark humor that highlighted Atlanta. Swarm, a deeply creepy new series starring Dominique Fishburne, will immediately resonate with fans of Glover’s previous series while delivering even more disturbing storylines inspired by Beyonce’s hardcore fans. Skewering the power of online fans through the lens of a disturbed young woman, Swarm features a road trip across the United States that connects seven very original stories into one horrifying and visceral experience.
Opening with a title card that says this series is based on a true story and that any similarities are intentional, Swarm defies the viewer to not associate the cult-like fanbase for the artist at the center of the series, Ni’Jah, with Beyonce Knowles. The references are thinly veiled, and even someone with the most rudimentary knowledge of Beyonce’s career can see the connections. But, rather than focus on the musician or her life, this series is about Andrea “Dre” Greene. Dre is an obsessed fan of Ni’jah, who lives with her sister, Marissa (Chloe Bailey), in Houston. Dre clearly suffers from mental illness and social anxiety, which she alleviates through the online fan community surrounding Ni’jah. When tragedy strikes, Dre breaks with reality and seeks revenge against anyone who speaks ill of her musical idol, often with murderous results. The violence on screen is brutal and coupled with Dre experiencing surreal after-effects involving food which borders on an almost sexual experience.
Swarm begins with violence and carries through the seven episodes of the first season. Each episode follows Dre as she travels around the country, on the run from her crimes and seeking additional victims. Dre’s journey takes her to music festivals and concert venues, all taking place in the late 2010s so that the story can echo some of the tumultuous events in Beyonce’s real life while also avoiding plot elements that would have been limited by post-pandemic social distancing. Similarly to how Atlanta presented its storylines, Swarm treats every plot element and character as completely serious, even when what is happening on screen defies logic. From a pet skunk to anachronistic stripper music and beyond, Swarm satirizes everything from social media influencers to cults and true crime documentaries to Black cultural appropriation.
Everything in Swarm hinges on the performance of Dominique Fishback. After breaking out in supporting roles in Show Me A Hero and The Deuce, Fishback was amazing in Judas and the Black Messiah and AppleTV+ series The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray. Here, Fishback transforms into one of the most chilling serial killers since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Accented by the sound of flies and buzzing bees as her murderous instincts kick in, Dre evolves over the series from an impulsive murderer to a calculating killer, sometimes allowing her baser instincts to drive her decision-making but always with the single-minded love for her favorite musical artist. Fishback is the lone consistent character throughout the entire series. Still, there are several excellent supporting roles throughout the season, mostly played by real musicians Chloe Bailey, Paris Jackson, Rory Culkin, Cree Summers, and Kiersey Clemons.
Created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabors, Swarm is unlike any other serial killer story I have seen. Rarely are serial killers female or a minority which makes this a unique take on the genre. Donald Glover helmed the first episode and sets the tone for the entire season, which also finds his brother, Stephen Glover, as writer and director. All seven half-hour episodes debut at once, making this series instantly binge-able. Watching the episodes in succession kept a solid momentum throughout the season until the penultimate chapter, which shifts the format entirely and upended my understanding of the story. Swarm is not a limited series, so do not expect all your questions to be answered by the finale. If the series were to end where it does, it would leave many questions, many of which could be intentionally left open to make the audience think, but I would be intrigued to see where Dre’s journey could go next.
Swarm is a challenging series that is going to divide audiences. Like Atlanta, many interpretations can be made about the meaning of this story, which will likely anger fans who immediately connect it to Beyonce’s fandom while also making interesting observations about the nature of fans and obsessive behavior. Whatever connections you draw to this series, Swarm is creepy as hell and showcases just how commanding of an actress Dominique Fishback is. Donald Glover and Janine Nabors have taken a concept that could have been horror, comedy, or drama and built it into a series that is all three at once and yet something new. This powerful new approach to genre storytelling is at once a brilliant satire full of pitch-black humor and a sad indictment of the internet age. In both ways, Swarm is a success and one of the best new series out there.
Swarm premieres on March 17th on Prime Video.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/swarm-tv-review/