Creators: Janine Nabers, Donald Glover
Cast: Dominique Fishback, Chloe Bailey, Damson Idris, Paris Jackson, Billie Eilish, Byron Bowers, Kiersey Clemons, Heather Simms
Genre: Psychological, dark comedy
7 episodes, 27-39 mins.
Dre is a lonely outcast who is obsessed with the pop star Ni’Jah, and will go to any lengths to protect the singer’s reputation… even murder. ‘Swarm’ is a terrifying, violent and darkly comical show about…. fan obsession? mental illness? or killing for killing’s sake?
Breathtaking performance by lead Dominique Fishback
Dominique Fishback is hands down one of the best actresses of the year for her performance as the disturbed Dre. She makes the anti-social protagonist feel lived in without being too affected. But she is also scary. Fishback perfectly toes the line between a cold-hearted serial killer and a shy, scared “kid” with no friends. She has strong potential to win an Emmy as the misanthropic anti-heroine.
Billie Eilish, Chloe Bailey and Paris Jackson’s unforgettable cameos
One of the reasons for ‘Swarm’ being so hyped up to its release day was thanks to its guest appearances from famous celebrities. For instance, Billie Eilish, Chloe Bailey and Paris Jackson.
Eilish plays the leader of a women’s cult group that rescues Dre. And she is simply mesmerising. It is astonishing that this is the 21-year-old singer’s acting debut. The way Billie acts with her eyes, smile and soothing voice comes off as effortlessly charismatic. Her natural swagger and charm are a perfect fit for her morally grey character. Billie’s ‘cult’ subplot was one of the most interesting and gripping subplots in the series, if not the most.
The cast also boasts of singer Chloe Bailey (formerly of the duo Chloe X Halley, but has recently gone solo). 24-year-old Bailey plays Dre’s loving elder sister, Marissa. And she pulls off the role with genuine warmth and convincing, lived-in sexuality.
Singer and model Paris Jackson (daughter of the late Michael Jackson) is another cast member who delivers a talk-worthy performance. She plays a stripper who the protagonist Dre comes across. Jackson is spritely and likeable as an overly friendly co-worker.
Unlike Eilish, Chloe Bailey and Paris Jackson have some acting credits in their names. Chloe was in ‘Jane’ (2022) and Jackson, in ‘American Horror Stories’. It would be wonderful to see Eilish on the big screen like the other two as she is a natural-born actor. All three women are comfortable in their skin and in front of the camera. Chloe Bailey’s sister Halle is geared to make her debut as a lead with the upcoming Disney fantasy, ‘The Little Mermaid’. Chloe would also, undoubtedly, make a smashing heroine in a big studio film.
Metaphor For Beyonce’s fandom?
The amount of musician cameos in ‘Swarm’ is not coincidental. ‘Swarm’, written by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover (who raps under the moniker Childish Gambino), looks at fan obsession in popular music. It is about the pettiness and cruelty of music “stans”. The parasocial relationships they develop towards charismatic music performers. And the lengths they go to in order to defend their idol’s reputation.
Take Beyoncé’s fandom for example. The Beyhive is notorious for bullying any celebrity or fan who criticises Beyoncé or appears to slight her. ‘Swarm’ is clearly about this specific fandom, if as a metaphor. Popstar Ni’Jah is obviously modelled after the ‘Halo’ singer. The costumes Ni’Jah wears are inspired by Bey’s. Ni’Jah has a sister who is described as making “spiritual” music, just like Beyoncé’s real-life sister, Solange. The elevator scandal involving Beyoncé, Solange and Bey’s husband, Jay-Z, is parodied in the show. And so are the cheating rumours.
This is not all. At one point, Chloe Bailey’s face is fused with Ni’Jah’s. For those unaware, Chloe is a protegé of Beyoncé and works under Queen B’s label. Many news sites have crowned Bailey as an up-and-coming Princess of Pop. The next Beyoncé. A young, gifted musician who the mega-star will pass the crown to after retirement. So it is only perfect to fuse Chloe’s face with Ni’Jah’s in Dre’s eyes and cast her as an inspirational sister that Dre looks up to.
More of a Psychological Thriller
But in spite of these interesting parallels, the show’s focus is scattered. It does not know what it wants to be. It was marketed as being about a pop-crazed fan who does anything she can to defend her idol. So I was expecting it to be a deep dive in fan psychology and behaviour. I wanted it to deconstruct Dre’s character and reveal why she is the way she is. But Dre, ultimately, remains a mystery.
‘Swarm’ slowly goes off the rails and becomes a psychological thriller. A crime show about an unhinged young woman for whom there’s no going back. Bodies fall left, right and centre. I began to feel as if the show was starting to enjoy watching people drop dead or brutalised by Dre for no reason. After a while, I felt numb. Murder just felt boring. The show didn’t make any fresh observations and instead, felt like a surface–level pulp show about a serial killer. Which isn’t always a bad thing. I am all for female serial killers in fiction.
There’s one episode which shifts perspectives – from Dre’s lonely, loveless world to the wise and sunny world of detective Loretta Greene (played by Alicia Simms). The jokes Simms delivers went over my head, unlike other viewers. Her loud humour felt out of place with the quietly cruel humour of the rest of the show. This episode was a big part of why the show felt aimless and lost in the second half.
In spite of its occasionally questionable violence, and its commentary which brings nothing new to the table, ‘Swarm’ is enjoyable. At least in the first half of the show. The cast members are brilliant, from Dominique Fishback to Billie, Chloe and Paris Jackson, and everybody else. But the show shines the most when it is unexpectedly funny, in a sardonic, dry way that makes you suddenly burst with laughter. To the point where you feel guilty.
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Maybe there’s something deeper to the show that I can’t see. After watching ‘Swarm’, I went online to see what viewers had to say. Some said that it was less about fan obsession and more about repressed homosexuality, and how it can lead to violence. That’s not how the show was sold so I feel wronged anyways. However, now you know what this show is like. So you might love it more than me.
‘Swarm’ is now on Prime Video.
Also read | Bees can do so much more than you think – from dancing to being little art critics
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