Review: 'Swarm' skewers Stan culture, gives fans a performance to fawn over

Adam Graham, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

Online fandoms and modern day Stan culture are rife for skewering, but "Atlanta" creator Donald Glover bites off more than he can chew with "Swarm," a darkly comic satire of superfans who take things too far.

The seven-episode series' subversive conceit turns an obsessive fan of an uber-successful R&B diva (think Beyoncé, the show sure is) into — spoiler alert to follow — a serial killer who slays, literally, in her queen's name. Beyond that, the show isn't quite sure what it's saying about the nature of today's fan economy, but at least it has a fascinating turn from star Dominique Fishback to hang itself on.

Fishback ("Judas and the Black Messiah," TV's "The Deuce") plays Dre, whose singular obsession with pop megastar Ni'jah is well past the point of sanity. "Swarm," which is co-created by Janine Nabers (HBO's "Watchmen"), makes its own sport out of comparing Ni'jah to Beyoncé, from the name given to her fan base (the Swarm, akin to Bey's Hive) right down to the font of her rapper husband's album art and its characters' casual lemonade consumption. It has the receipts.

In the opening episode, Dre buys concert tickets she clearly can't afford to stunt for her followers online, basking in the likes and the warming glow of the digital attention. It's the best things get for her. An incident with her sister Marissa (singer Chloe Bailey, whose connections to Beyoncé run deep) sends her on the lam, and "Swarm" follows her to a different town, in a different scenario, in every episode. (A delicious surprise cameo in the fourth episode is worth the price of admission alone.)

Fishback plays detached, emotionless, sad, scary and sympathetic, sometimes all at once, and somehow finds an endearing inner quality to her monstrous character. Even her physicality is a choice; at one point she makes shuffling across the street a sight to see. She turns her character's signature riff, "who is your favorite artist?" into an extension of "Scream's" deadly query, "what's your favorite scary movie?" No matter the answer, by the time it's been asked, it's already too late.

"Swarm" plays with form the way "Atlanta" was able to completely switch styles from one episode to the next, and it finds freedom in its narrative looseness. If only it had more going on underneath its hood. Episodes open with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer: "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional." OK, that's cute, but in service of what, exactly?

It also feels like it makes its point early and then struggles to follow it up, but at least with Fishback in the driver's seat, the ride is never dull. "Swarm" is her showcase, and she shines like a diamond in the lead role. She's worthy of a crown, a queen truly worth slaying for.




Grade: B-

Rated: TV-MA (adult situations, language, violence, nudity)

How to watch: Prime Video

(c)2023 The Detroit News Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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