REVIEW: SWAMP THING (2019)

Derek Mears and Crystal Reed in Swamp Thing (2019)

Starring

Crystal Reed (Gotham)
Virginia Madsen (Better Watch Out)
Andy Bean (Transformers: The Last Knight)
Henderson Wade (Riverdale)
Maria Sten (Channel Zero)
Jeryl Prescott (The Skeleton Key)
Jennifer Beals (Lie To Me)
Will Patton (Silkwood)
Kevin Durand (Resident Evil: Retribution)
Derek Mears (Sleepy Hollow)

Crystal Reed in Swamp Thing (2019)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Leonardo Nam (Westworld)
Ian Ziering (Sharknado)
Michael Beach (Aquaman)
RJ Cyler (Power Rangers)
Macon Blair (Logan Lucky)
Elle Graham (Mile 22)
Given Sharp (The Gifted)
Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager)
Selena Anduze (Venom)
Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog)
Justice Leak (Supergirl)
Jake Busey (Starship Troopers)

Swamp Thing (2019)Say what you will about DC Universe, but original series-wise the still-young streaming service is on the same trajectory as Superman himself: Up, up, and a-way better than Titans. That first series had its fans and certainly improved as it went along,  Then came Doom Patrol, which started out solid as Brendan Fraser‘s bare backside and gradually became one of the most wonderfully absurd delights on all of television.Crystal Reed in Swamp Thing (2019)That put a lot of pressure on the big mossy shoulders of original series #3, Swamp Thing, to keep up the quality, especially in the wake of the backstage wonkiness that cut its originally-ordered 13 episodes to 10. Well, I’m here to report that Swamp Thing, at least in its first two episodes, not only ups the ante, it’s also a triumph on pretty much every level, a nasty, gleefully disturbing bit of body horror on the Louisiana bayou that evokes everything from John Carpenter‘s The Thing to executive-producer James Wan‘s work with the Trench in Aquaman. It’s 2019, man, and it looks like it’s officially time to go green.Swamp Thing (2019)Len Wiseman—the director behind the pilots for Sleepy Hollow and Lucifer—also helmed the pilot here, an extremely on-brand choice considering Swamp Thing follows a similar formula: Straight-laced professional woman partners up with a quirky man who has a supernatural twist. In Sleepy Hollow, it was a sheriff’s lieutenant and the actual Ichabod Crane. In Lucifer, it was a detective and the literal Christian Devil. Here, it’s a member of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service named Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) and biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean), the latter who—spoilers—eventually morphs with a sentient swamp to become a giant moss-monster played under heavy prosthetics by former Jason Voorhees Derek Mears. Again, it’s a formula, but the formula really does work to charming effect.Swamp Thing (2019)Arcane has been called back to her hometown of Marais, Louisiana to investigate a strange disease that’s seemingly emanating from the nearby swamp, causing locals to collapse, cough up gooey leaves into their hospital beds, and—in much more extreme cases—devolve into mossy, decaying statues straight out of a biologist’s worst fever dreams. (Think the gory artwork of Hannibal meets, like, a fucked-up Ent.) Butting into her investigation is disgraced scientist Holland, who discovered abnormal mutagens in the swamp that may just be the key to finding a cure. But the deeper Arcane and Holland dig, the more it smells like a rotten conspiracy, a conspiracy the swamp itself seems intent on violently stopping.Crystal Reed in Swamp Thing (2019)It’s in that violence and rot that this show truly shines as a no-joke horror story, not a surprise given Wan’s involvement and a pilot script co-written by Gary Dauberman (IT, The Nun) and Mark Verheiden (Ash vs. Evil Dead). Wiseman, who also directed episode 2, shoots Marais’ swamp like a dark fairy tale, all twisted trees and moonlit ponds. The effect makes it that much more jarring in the moments that almost primordial darkness invades Abby Arcane’s world of science. There’s a scene set in a morgue that floored me in its creepiness; the swamp disease brings a corpse back to profane “life”, the body standing up off the operating table even as it’s ripped apart by twisting vines and probing branches. It’s gross, it really does have serious The Thing vibes, and most importantly, it appears to be mostly practical.

Derek Mears in Swamp Thing (2019)Those practical set-pieces throughout elevate Swamp Thing a good deal. Maybe it’s the Jaws fanatic in me, but I love seeing a boat actually lifted out of the water by some unseen monstrosity. But Fractured FX—the minds behind the Lipstick-Face Demon in Insidious and every ghoul in The Conjuring franchise, among many other abominations—worked overtime to make sure the monstrosities we do see are equally impressive. I don’t think Swampy fans could ask for a more pitch-perfect live-action take than the one we get here. The suit plastered on Mears oozes and shines in all the right, rotten ways; there’s a moment where he pulls off a piece of his own head and you can see the strands of goo between his fingers. It’s disgusting. It’s great. (And yes, Swamp Thing is ripped af, and I expect certain corners of the internet to react accordingly, as is their right.)Derek Mears and Crystal Reed in Swamp Thing (2019)But the real miracle here is that Swamp Thing still manages to feel like a human show. Abby Arcane is an effective entry point into the madness; she brings back to her hometown a dark secret from her past that Reed manages to tease out through haunted looks and sentences cut just short. She has an easy chemistry with a pre-monster Bean, whose oddball charisma makes you sad that he has to turn into Swamp Thing on a show literally called Swamp Thing. But of course, it’s Mears pulling the real magic trick here. He doesn’t speak a single word over the first two episodes because he doesn’t need to. Mears injects a potent dose of rage, confusion, and sadness into Swamp Thing with his face, the way he stands, the way he stumbles against a tree.Sadly Swamp Thing got cancelled due to a high budget, so one season is all we get, but it sure as hell is one hell of a season

REVIEW: DOOM PATROL – SEASON 1

Doom Patrol (2019)

Starirng

Diane Guerrero (Justice League vs The Fatal Five)
April Bowlby (Two and a Half Men)
Joivan Wade (the First Purge)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Matt Bomer (The Magnificent Seven)
Brendan Fraser (The Mummy)
Timothy Dalton (Flash Gordon)

Doom Patrol (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Julie McNiven (Mad Men)
Julian Richings (Man of Steel)
Kyle Clements (2 Guns)
Alan Heckner (The Mule)
Ashley Dougherty (Dynasty)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Curtis Armstrong (American Dad)
Alec Mapa (Ugly Betty)
Lilli Birdsell (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Mark Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica)
Ted Sutherland (Rise)
Will Kemp (Reign)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Jasmine Kaur (Ender’s Game)
Lesa Wilson (Stargirl)
Bethany Anne Lind (Flight)
Ethan McDowell (The Gifted)
Jon Briddell (Nightmare Tenant)
Tommy Snider (Baskets)
Max Martini (The Order)
Joan Van Ark (Knots Landing)
Pisay Pao (Z Nation)
Susan Williams (The Accountant)
Devan Long (Bosch)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Haley Strode (Gangster Squad)
Victoria Blade (Chicago Fire)

Penultimate Patrol (2019)When I watched the first episode of Doom Patrol, I was immediately excited by what I saw: a great-looking, well-written story about surprisingly human superhumans with powers that were more than power fantasies. With the finale in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look back and see if the show stuck to its ideas and made good on its promises.
In short, Doom Patrol is an incredibly special show – as a superhero/comic-book show, as a DC Universe show, and as just, you know, a dang TV show.April Bowlby and Joivan Wade in Doom Patrol (2019)At its roots, Doom Patrol is a show about people with disabilities. People with differences that separate them from “normal” people. They hide their disfigurements, struggle, and shame themselves. They stand out not as a matter of choice, but just by existing. And the show, the story, never loses sight of that. Through their adventures, the Patrol meets a sentient, teleporting, genderqueer street, a guy who gets special powers from eating beard hair (it’s gross), and a cockroach with a god complex. They get sucked into a donkey that farts words, end up inside a snowglobe with characters that would freak out the people who made Return to Oz, and break into a government facility that houses, among other things, carnivorous butts.Doom Patrol is a show that fully embraces its weirdness in a way very few shows manage. But throughout this, our characters continue to struggle and fight against the forces that work against them: a reality that wants to write their narratives for them, a government agency that wants to track, monitor, and use them because they don’t fit neatly into the idea of normalcy, and a few overprotective father figures with questionable ideas of what it means to protect their children or their charges.Diane Guerrero in Doom Patrol (2019)Together, the team validates each others’ struggles. Cliff immediately accepts Crazy Jane, and the eventual dive into her mind helps him understand that only she can put herself back together – and that it’s with the strength of her relationships that she can start to try to do it. Larry Trainor was a gay man living in mid-century America. When he was forcibly united with the Negative Spirit, the idea of hiding his real self from his loved ones became very literal, and the disfigurement he held for himself in his mind became real – and toxic. It wasn’t until he started to communicate with the spirit that he was able to find peace with his own truth. Cyborg, who I’ve previously described as a Justice-League-grade hero had to push his way out from under his helicopter-parent father to truly become himself and to find an even ground on which he could communicate with that father. The group went through therapy together, even if there was a rat inside Cliff’s head for it.Brendan Fraser, Diane Guerrero, and Riley Shanahan in Doom Patrol (2019)And while these characters were working through their collective and individual traumas, we got an incredibly good-looking show with stellar character designs and great visual effects. The arc that took the characters to Nurnheim stands out as an especially good-looking part of the show with some wild monsters for the characters to fight off, making them look like a superhero team for the first time.Riley Shanahan in Doom Patrol (2019)And few shows are so compassionate toward their characters. No show is perfect, especially when handling as many sensitive issues – disability, mental and physical trauma, sexual assault, hate, internalized ableism, just to start the list – but I don’t know if I’ve seen any show do it with such aplomb. This is a show about people with very real barriers to living normal lives, not super-geniuses who can take off their power armor, and it lets us into all of their struggles and loves them through it. With reports that suggest the show will see a second season, I can only cross my fingers and hope we’ll see more of these incredible characters.