‘Swarm’ packs a sting

Series satirizes fan culture

Fair use from Amazon Prime.

Sarah Kluckhohn

Have you ever been shocked by the intensity of stan culture online? Has a tweet from a Beyonce or Kpop fan rattled you to your core? From Donald Glover and Janine Nabers comes “Swarm,” a flashy thriller following a murderous superfan on her quest to defend her favorite artist at all costs, no matter how bloody.

The series follows Dre, played by Dominique Fishback, as she reels from the death of her closest friend, Marrisa, and embarks on a murderous rampage targeting anyone who critiques Ni’jah, a famous R&B singer and the subject of Dre’s obsession. 

Ni’jah is an obvious parallel for Beyonce, and this on-the-nose portrayal of her extends to her fanbase. This is evident in their names: Ni’jah stans are “The Swarm,” calling upon Beyonce’s “Beyhive.” 

Dre is emotionally stunted and, following the death of Marissa, completely alone. She turns to her parasocial relationship with Ni’jah and “The Swarm” to manage difficult emotions and to give herself purpose. The show uses Dre to critique the extreme parasociality and intensity of stan Twitter, while still painting her as a sympathetic character with her own inner world — an impressive feat for a satire. 

This is achieved largely due to Fishback’s performance, which gives a necessary depth to the character in the face of writing that sometimes forgets her. The script tends to flatten Dre into simply an example of how Black women are treated in America, but Fishback brings her back to life in an eerie and compelling way. 

The show uses a similar offbeat humor and absurdist tone to Glover’s breakout hit “Atlanta,” prompting a wave of comparisons between the two. I think this comparison is ill-judged. Comparing a new product with a show like “Atlanta” dooms it, and that’s not a fate “Swarm” deserves. 

The show has an exciting plot, compelling main character and relevant satire — stan culture makes up an insane amount of internet history and culture, yet this show is the first major production to tackle it directly. 

There’s also merit in making a show like this starring a Black woman — in the midst of the trend towards portraying flawed female characters, BIPOC have, for the most part, been relegated to the part of level-headed supporting character. It’s refreshing to see a woman of color go just as crazy, with the same empathy given to her portrayal. 

Aside from all of this, there is some interesting stylization and commitment to recurring motifs — bees and hunger are both used creatively to elevate the text — and the costumes are convincingly Gen-Z, a rare achievement in TV. I especially liked the strippers’ costumes in episode two, which were unique and nice to look at while also being believable, clearly inspired by current southern alternative style. 

Overall, “Swarm” is a thrilling, funny ride and definitely worth a watch if you have any history with online fandom culture. It is available to stream on Amazon Prime. 

“Swarm:” ★★★★☆