Review by Tatiana Miranda
Created by Atlanta's Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, the series Swarm might feel familiar, and according to Nabers, this was intentional. Set between 2016-2018, the show centers around Dre, a young superfan of the fictional R&B star Ni'Jah. While Nabers and Glover refuse to state whether Ni'Jah is based on Beyonce or not, the inspiration is clear. Besides Ni'Jah's famous cheating husband, a surprise album release, and her "more spiritual" sister's music career, the series's name alone makes the connection to the Beyhive clear. Yet, Ni'Jah's character and Dre's obsession feel wholly original, and the show's commentary on crazed fans could easily apply to any fandom.
Inspired by real-life Twitter rumors and celebrity feuds, Swarm threads together plenty of well-known instances, including Beyonce's face-biting incident, and gives them new life through Dre's actions. The show's creators make this clear by having each episode begin with the disclaimer, "This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional."
While Dre character is already unusual and emotionally stunted, grief causes her to spiral, setting her on a path of vengeance and obsession. Even though her decisions are hardly justified (at least for the most part), Dre still comes across as morally ambiguous. The mix of her loss and misplaced love for Ni'Jah feel familiar, as most teens and young adults have likely felt something similar for whichever celebrity they were once obsessed with.
Similar to Atlanta, Swarm is eccentric and full of bizarre scenes. In any other show, this might be distracting, but for Swarm, it tracks with Dre's unusual behavior and distorted reality. Between her intense binge-eating and pathological lying, Dre is intensely unsettling long before she commits any crimes. The rest of the cast is equally disturbing — namely the cult-like characters she meets while trying to break into a music festival that Ni'Jah is headlining.
While Swarm is tonally unique, and the plot tends to keep the audience on edge, the show's semi-surrealism doesn't allow the characters to go beyond what's surface level. Besides being a crazed fan, Dre doesn't seem to have more depth as a character, as her actions are mostly chalked up to her love for Ni'Jah and her friendship with Chloe Bailey's character. This distance keeps the audience from completely justifying her actions or understanding the depths of her grief. Even with this, though, Swarm is an entertaining watch that discusses the complexities of fandoms and social media.
Swarm begins streaming on Prime Video on March 17. All eight episodes reviewed.