Hot off of acclaimed freshman seasons for Titans and Doom Patrol, DC Universe's Swamp Thing debuted to rave reviews that largely eclipsed earlier reports of Season 1's episode count being shortened. Just days later, however, the supernatural thriller was unceremoniously cancelled in a move that still confuses fans and industry insiders.
Anger is still likely the first emotion that rises up when Swamp Thing comes up, and I personally couldn't be more disappointed to know that things likely won't move past Season 1. However, I'm not going to let that knowledge hinder my gleeful enjoyment of the ten episodes that were produced, and I don't think it would behoove any other self-respecting fans to skip out on watching solely due to the cancellation. Let's talk about why it's better to keep diving in, beyond James Wan wanting everyone to.
The Cast And Crew Poured Their Hearts Into It
Sure, it may have gotten cancelled early, but no one went to work each day on Swamp Thing going, "This will probably get cancelled quickly, so I'm just going to half-ass everything while I'm here." Swamp Thing sparked just as much excitement in the cast and crew as it did for fans who've waited decades to get the murky hero back on the small screen. As such, this is the best take on Swamp Thing that we might ever see, so what's the point in skipping out on it?
When I got a chance to talk with Derek Mears, who portrays the Swamp Thing creature itself, he vouched for the electric energy on the set, and the dedication that was ever-present.
On my end of things, I'm so blown away, because this is a dream job. This is how you dream that Hollywood is going to be before you enter Hollywood. The mentality of cast and crew, with all different artists and different departments and different mediums working together as a team with no hierarchy or pretense, trying to hit the same goal. To basically row the boat in the same direction, having people of all different skills sets and skill levels go, 'We're a team. Let's make the best thing possible.' That just blew my mind, and I feel like I have a lot more invested in this. I always invest in the shows that I do, but I love so many of the people involved [with Swamp Thing] and I'm rooting for them. . . . No one took it as just a clocking-in job, it was 'What can I do to the fullest of my ability to make this thing the best thing possible.' That was the buzz every day on set, and so it was a pleasure going to work and just playing with your friends. So I'm happy to be a part of it. I always say I'm a fan representing the fans, and people literally gave blood, sweat and tears trying to make this right.
Now, I'm not going to make claims about any other comic book shows on platforms outside of DC Universe, but it's clear when watching Swamp Thing that, regardless of the hurdles it's crossed, the project made "quality" the highest priority. Perhaps to a fault, as far as the budget was concerned, but at least audiences' eyeballs are all the better for it.
Swamp Thing's Big Budget Is All On The Screen
Seemed like a good time to segue into talking about how the cast and crew's personal efforts were balanced by Swamp Thing's presumably massive budget. At least in the earliest episodes – I've seen through the third episode so far – it's easy to tell how expensive everything must have been, even though Swamp Thing isn't overly showy in the way an action movie would be.
Per the tax rebate Swamp Thing filed for its pilot episode in North Carolina, it can be gleaned that around $20 million was put into that first episode. Granted, a lot of that money went into building the sets used most often on the show, such as the massive swamp set that serves as Swamp Thing's home, so to speak.
When watching, it's quite hard to tell that the swamp shots aren't all on location, as it immediately conjures up feelings of a humid summer. Those kinds of thoughts were echoed by actor Derek Mears. In his words:
Oh, dude, the swamp in general is so mind-blowing. The stage is over in North Carolina [where] they built an actual swamp set that was interchangeable, and just a work of art, the craftsmanship that went into that. The Wilmington crew, their talent is through the roof. There were points early on when we were filming, Len Wiseman – the director of the first two episodes – he posted a video of an exterior of the swamp with him going into the swamp. At the point when I saw the video, I was talking to my wife and I go, 'Look, that's basically my office every day. And I can't tell you right now if that is a stage, or if he's actually on the exterior set in the actual swamp shooting.' I don't know, which is crazy, because I am the one that's closest to all of this.
Beyond the swamp, there's also Swamp Thing's look itself. The practical prosthetics that were used are of the utmost quality, giving Derek Mears' wet and icky creature an actual personality, as opposed to just digitally drowning the character in CGI costume effects. That said, though, the CGI used to show off the swamp's damaged and mystical nature is legitimately as good as anything else coming out of Hollywood these days. The bugs alone...
It's Already One Of TV's Best Horrors In 2019
Horror fans can't exactly take genre programming for granted, even though recent years have offered TV audiences a delightful assortment of haunting series. So when a show comes along that boasts The Conjuring and Saw franchise spearheader James Wan, IT Chapter 2 scribe Gary Dauberman, Underworld creator Len Wiseman, Ash vs. Evil Dead EP Mark Verheiden and more, it should be at the forefront of every horror fan out there. (At least those with a subscription to DC Universe.)
While Swamp Thing does fit into other genre categories, it works first and foremost and a horror thriller with a romantic underbelly for its lead characters Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) and Alec Holland (Andy Bean). And though there are some human villains afoot, Swamp Thing's best scares come from the evil that resides in the Louisiana wilderness.
Here's how star Crystal Reed spoke about acting towards the horror vibe.
I think for me, I was just completely involved in the story. And so therefore the horror elements are just on the page, they're written for us. Therefore, if I'm just really connected and invested in the character and the circumstances, then those things kind of naturally come out. I think, for me at least, I'm not the type of actor that will play for the scream, or play for the scare. And then we shot in Wilmington in a huge stage that was full of water, and it was made to look like a swamp. So it was interesting because when it was lit properly, it looked really scary, and dark and moody. But oftentimes, you know, they would turn off all the lights and it was most jarring thing to see this huge swamp set with fluorescent lights and people floating around in this big pool.
Had Swamp Thing gone harder on the sci-fi vibe or the slightly political vibe that Avery Sunderland is playing at, the show might have gotten bogged down (no pun intended) by an excess of information up front. Instead, though, the show maintains a creeping dread as it slow-burns its way into viewers' heads.
Here, co-creator and executive producer Gary Dauberman told me how DC Universe execs and the platform itself helped the creative team land the tone and pacing they wanted.
We were also allowed to and wanted to take our time with things, too, and not pile information on and be so 'click to the next thing.' These characters, especially the cast, you want to spend time with them. So even if they were just sort of sitting there, or Abby's looking through the microscope, or we're just in the swamp or with each other, we were able to let moments breathe. And I think that works best for horror, too. I mean, that's one of the challenges doing horror for more traditional television. You have these act breaks, and when you cut to commercial, suddenly now you have to get that tension back, and that's so hard to do on a kind of a network vibe. You're always breaking away. So we were able to sort of live in these moments and let moments breathe, where it doesn't feel like much is happening; but much like a swamp, stuff's sort of bubbling to the surface that we can pay off later down the road, which we were very excited about.
There's foreboding, there's terror, there's violence, and there's some of the wickedest-looking gore in all of comic book television. (That's right, Walking Dead.) Swamp Thing absolutely deserves horror fans' attention, especially after its cancellation, so that producers and studios know that fans will keep watching no matter what.
Virginia Madsen And Will Patton As The Sunderlands
I could stand here and talk all day about how great everyone is within the Swamp Thing cast. However, I'll take this final stretch to just focus on the two veteran actors taking on two of the show's more villainous roles.
As a big fish in the small pond-swamp of Marais, Louisiana, Will Patton's Avery Sunderland will be very familiar to TV viewers, as he would also feel right at home on location-based crime dramas like The Wire. He has to convince others that he holds all the power, and Will Patton is pitch-perfect at publicly putting on smiling airs and then spinning his emotions on a dime into something much more menacing.
As Maria Sunderland, Virginia Madsen is certainly not slouching in her husband's shadow. For years, she held herself back due to grief over losing their daughter – a situation that Abby is closely tied to – but Maria has found new motivations in life that don't seem like they'll be all too positive for anyone. That includes Avery.
I could and would watch these two actors in anything, and together, they shine ever so brightly. Madsen and Patton's chemistry amounts to a pressure cooker just waiting to be blown apart for everyone to see.
All that, and I didn't even get into the joy of watching Swamp Thing bring the comic book stories to life. Swamp Thing will air the entirety of Season 1's ten episodes on DC Universe on Fridays, so do your fandom a favor and keep watching in spite of everything that's happened.