REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Before it had even aired, Swamp Thing – the third live-action addition to the fledgeling DC Universe streaming service – was beset with problems. In April 2019, a full month before it debuted, it was announced that the series was being cut from thirteen to just ten episodes, reportedly due to creative differences between the production company and WarnerMedia, who own the greater DC universe. Then, after just one episode had aired, the series was cancelled, apparently due to budget cuts forced by a change of tax policy from the North Carolina authorities.
At that point, it didn’t seem to matter. The show was off to a great start, and even a curtailed first season would provide a closure of sorts, with the possibility of its continuation should circumstances change. The first episode was strong, all southern gothic, body horror, and foreboding, and this continued through the first half of the series, as Center for Disease Control troubleshooter Abby Arcane returned to her childhood home of Marais, Louisiana, to investigate a spell of seemingly plant-based disease cases.
Arcane encounters Alec Holland, a scientist brought in by shady town mogul Avery Sunderland to investigate the swamp’s weirder properties, and if you know your Swamp Thing lore you’ll know that the path of true love doesn’t exactly run smooth. Arcane and Sunderland go way back, and there are further mysteries thrown into the gumbo pot, including the curious death of Sunderland’s daughter, a washed-up movie stuntman stranded in town after wrapping Blue Devil, and a blind fortune teller called Madame Xanadu.
Based on the comic books by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, and later promising to adapt material from Alan Moore’s storied run, there was a wealth of backstory for the producers to call upon, but somewhere along the way they lost the thread. The first half dozen episodes were all atmosphere and shock, whispered conversations and underlying threats; this was a show that unnerved the viewer, with some genuinely terrifying moments. In contrast, the final four were a rush, choosing to show more of Swamp Thing himself than was strictly necessary, especially since the budget cuts left our hero looking too much like the man in a rubber suits he undoubtedly was. The show wrapped tidily, and with enough subplots left dangling for a second season if necessary (such as the disappearance of one major threat, halfway through the show), but – like a gobful of Swampy’s undercarriage – it didn’t leave a great taste in the mouth.
All of this is a shame, not only because of the strong start to the series but also because Titans and Doom Patrol – the DC Universe shows that preceded it – were so great. Perhaps the real reason lies in the choice of producer; Swamp Thing is the first live-action DC show in a while not to be produced by Greg Berlanti. The show can still offer great performances by Crystal Reid as Arcane, and by Andy Bean as Holland, with able backing given by strong character studies from Will Patton, Virginia Madsen, Jennifer Beals, and Kevin Durand, but it all feels for nought at the end.
There’s still a great show in there somewhere, and perhaps one day it might be fully-realised. But for the time being, despite its very capable first half, Swamp Thing is just another show.