Features and Columns · TV

The Tragic Case of ‘Swamp Thing’

DC’s environmentally friendly monster can’t catch a break on the screen. We look at the tragic history of their contemporary Swamp Thing show.
Swamp Thing
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on May 19th, 2020

Welcome to Petition Worthy, a biweekly column that revisits canceled TV shows that we wish had a longer lifespan. In some cases, we’ll also make a plea for them to be given another chance.

Poor Swamp Thing. He just can’t catch a break on the screen. The jolly green swamp monster has been the star of two forgotten movies and three canceled television shows, none of which established him as a consistent force outside of comics. Despite being a mainstay of DC lore, the monster isn’t a regular presence outside of the source material.

For a while, though, the 2019 television series for DC Universe seemed like a winner in the making. James Wan (The Conjuring), Mark Verheidan (Battlestar Gallactica), and Gary Dauberman (IT) lent some serious creative pedigree to the project. If you’re going to make a successful genre show, you should hire those guys.

The DC-focused platform also seemed like a perfect home for the series. The streaming service had already found success with Titans and Doom Patrol, suggesting that the outlier heroes of DC Comics finally had a place to cut loose. If you’re going to make shows about niche characters, then a streaming service aimed at comic book fans makes sense.

There were plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about Swamp Thing in the lead up to the show’s debut. Then, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the series after the first episode aired. Apparently, the production costs were too high to greenlight a second season. The good vibes were gone.

What made this cancelation worse is the fact that Swampy returned from his long hiatus with one hell of an adaptation. The show retains the horrific hallmarks of the comics while throwing in a few modern tweaks for the modern age. The creators had some ideas of their own, sure, but they also set out to acknowledge and embrace the essential components of what makes Swamp Thing great.

Swamp Thing follows Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed), a CDC agent who returns to Louisiana to investigate a strange disease. Joining her is Alec Holland (Andy Bean), a biologist who turns into the titular monster when he sinks into a swamp following an assassination attempt. His good looks are replaced with mossy flesh and glowing red eyes, but he inherits the powers of the earth, which come in handy during his subsequent battles with the enemy.

Of course, the disease in question isn’t standard CDC fare. This town is at the epicenter of supernatural activity, and Swampy isn’t the only monstrosity to be found roaming the bayou. There are bugs that wield the power to resurrect evildoers and turn them into hideous creatures. Elsewhere, ghosts haunt — and possess — the living. And you don’t want to be around the flesh-munching corpses that live in the trees.

Season 1 isn’t interested in being a superhero show. This is a bloody chiller that’s dripping with Southern Gothic atmosphere and grotesque body horror. The swamp itself boasts the aura of a dark fairytale land, especially when night falls and the fog appears. But when it comes time to get nasty, the show unleashes some exquisite gross-out moments as green goo and plant roots are spewed from body parts.

The real evil in Swamp Thing is of the human variety. Specifically, humans who threaten the environment. The series’ big bad is Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), a local businessman with nefarious ambitions that poses a danger to the swamp. Supported by a team of mercenaries, he’s more of a danger to Swampy and the town than any of the creatures that populate the bayou. Patton is exceptional, playing the embodiment of pure capitalist evil with a smile on his face the entire time.

The show also features appearances from some deep-cut DC Comics characters. The Phantom Stranger (Macon Blair) shows up to advise the swamp monster when needs guidance. Ian Ziering also appears as Blue Devil, a former stuntman who becomes a local superhero. Swamp Thing gives some of DC’s more obscure characters a spotlight, and the thought of not seeing more of them down the line is upsetting.

Swamp Thing follows the same beats as other supernatural shows, blending monster-of-the-week scenarios with an ongoing narrative involving conspiracies and mythology. But even the most familiar elements are well-executed, and the show’s commitment to horror goes a long way.

Swamp Thing also works as an excellent origin story for Swampy, which makes its cancelation even more frustrating. Origin stories are fine, but fans deserve a Swamp Thing series that encapsulates all of the wondrous elements of the comics and ends on its own terms.

This show was heading in the right direction until it came to an unexpected halt. The series’ only flaws stem from the creators being forced to come up with a last-minute ending when they evidently had long-term goals in mind from the outset. Later episodes of Swamp Thing drew upon Alan Moore’s iconic “The Anatomy Lesson” storyline, hinting that Season 2 would have leaned more into the existentialism of those comics.

There’s an argument to be made that the monster should have been the star of the show, but it made sense to keep him in the shadows during Season 1. He’s the point-of-view character in most of the comics, but the decision to center the show around Abby works. Swampy’s arc is ultimately about him coming to terms with his new monstrous self, and Abby is the glue who holds everything together while the freaky stuff around her organically evolves.

With Swamp Thing heading to The CW this fall, perhaps the series will find a wider audience who will make their cries for more episodes heard. Season 1 concludes the story on a satisfactory note, but it’s smart enough to leave some loose ends just in case the powers-that-be have a change of heart. It’s not too late to reverse this terrible decision and start working on more while the iron is still hot. If any show is Petition Worthy, it’s Swamp Thing.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.