After watching the first episode and speaking with the cast and crew of CW’s Tom Swift, this show about family, both blood and found, has captured something special that everyone can enjoy.
This series is not your great grandpa’s Tom Swift. Co-creator and Executive Producer Melinda Hsu Taylor mentioned that the Tom Swift team wanted to make a more inclusive show than the original IP. “The books from back in the day are from a different era. They don’t hold up. But the core concept of optimism and friendship and relentless positivity were translated for this show.”
Representation is on full display in this reimagined version of the American classic. Taking a turn from a young white inventor of 1910, the creative team is bringing Tom Swift into the 2020s as a black, gay identifying billionaire who is unapologetically himself. We are getting a science fiction show with a black queer lead, and that alone makes this show one that everyone should be tuned in to.
The series surrounds Tom (Tian Richards) with a cast that is just as inclusive. This includes the trans-identifying muscle (Marquise Vilson) the just as educated as she is beautiful best friend (Zenzi Fullerton), and the highly capable Japanese American woman (Brittany Ishibashi) who rivals Tom for control of his father’s company.. There are many other folks with varying identities to tune in for.
One of the key reasons this show is for everyone is represented by a personal moment Melinda shared. She asked her son, who is trans, “What TV shows are out there that you’re like, “Oh, that’s me, that’s my story.” And he was like, “Well, there aren’t any.” Melinda said, “I’m gonna change that for you, honey, if I can.” And she did. Enter: the character I’m sure will be a fan favorite, Isaac, played by Marquise Vilson.
Co-creator and Executive Producer Noga Landau mentioned that Marquise’s presence on the show is making history and will allow folks to see themselves in a way they haven’t before, and I wholeheartedly agree. Marquise’s portrayal of Isaac and his contribution as the strong silent type sets him apart from the rest of the lively cast, but at the same time, he feels relatable. Like a cool big cousin.
In one scene from the first episode, there was a line Isaac made while dancing with Zenzi, played by Ashleigh Murray. Isaac mentioned his experience with an ex-girlfriend, and as simple as that line was, and I think it spoke volumes about how disconnected folks can be from others’ experiences. This is another reason why this show is needed and will resonate with everyone, even those not in the LGBTQ community. It’s already giving the general public a hero they may not have considered before.
Additionally, the queer representation is on full display. Facebook has a habit of reminding you about things you have posted over the years. One constant for me is a post I made a few years back asking my friends list if they knew of any MLM (Men Loving Men) couples where both partners are BLACK (visibly black, in skin tone and features) and are a part of the Marvel or DC camp. And every year, the answer is a resounding no. There is always a black partner paired with one of another race in movies, tv, and comics. That’s why this show again is needed.
In this show, the queer experiences are explicit and not subtext. As the co-creator and executive producer, Cameron Johnson, said, there is a possible LOVE SQUARE on the horizon involving Tom. And I get it with so many beautiful melanated individuals on this show why would you stop at a love triangle? Seeing these relationships on full display helps normalize these authentic relationships among black gay men that have not been explored in full before a black gay man dating and expressing himself entirely exactly like his heterosexual counterparts.
This show presents Tom as genuine and authentic in his grief, joy, confrontations, sexual expression, responsibilities, and love life. It’s presented in a way that many (black queer) people have been asking for years. To have this representation and these storylines upfront and in your face instead of being relegated to the token gay friend’s B story is refreshing. Yet another reason why this show should be watched by everyone, even if you aren’t a black gay billionaire.
The family component of the series can easily speak to everyone. On-screen, Tom Swift is about a wealthy family whose legacy is tech. It promises to be a fun and entertaining ride full of good times, hard decisions, and dramatic scenes. Even more important, I feel, is the culture of the show and the relationship between the cast and creative team.
I asked Ashleigh and Tian about their big dramatic scene in the first episode. Ashleigh detailed the process describing it as arguing with your sibling, cousin, or friend and how those emotions came from an authentic place. Tian cosigned, and to see the chemistry between them is like watching your own family on screen.
Learning about the openness among the cast and crew amplifies those moments. Tian mentioned that while waiting for Tom Swift to be picked up, he was still in contact with Cameron and Melinda and how even though he was the only person in LA, they were still reaching out and speaking to him.
Tian said, “I met Cameron Johnson, Noga Landau, and the beautiful Melinda Hsu Taylor on Zoom, and they became a true family for me, like during that time. I went to their homes. I visited, went to parties, and met their children.” While being in LA alone and figuring things out, he mentioned that they still found time to pour into him. “They became a family for me within this experience.”
Tian mentions how they checked on him and that their relationship was not business and business only—further highlighting the importance of found family. That love and care shared off-screen are what translates to the interactions on screen. You can always do your job better and with confidence, knowing that you are supported and that everyone has your back.
Another reason this show is unmatched is that when asked how much input the cast has with wardrobe choices, Ashleigh mentioned that the cast’s input is valued heavily. She referenced an episode that was currently being shot. There’s an outfit for her character, Zenzi, made from scratch, but there were issues with getting the pattern right. Ashleigh brought up a designer she knew of, Cynthia Rowley, who makes “very feminine, very statement pieces.” The clothes from this designer could easily fit the show’s feel. This suggestion was received and implemented.
Discovering how collaborative the process is why you should watch this show ten times over. And it’s not just for the beautiful fashions but for the fact that this black cast is being cared for off-screen in a way that has not been reported at mass in forever. A year or so ago, there was a revelation that black cast members in predominantly white shows have had to take care of their hair on their own. (Either that or deal with a stylist who has no experience or interest in caring for black hair.) Giving the Tom Swift cast this type of power in the decision-making speaks volumes about the kind of show they’re running over there.
Hearing why the producers went with the CW is yet another reason you should be tuned in. Cameron says they went with CW because the CW wanted the show to go further. He mentioned that there would surely be things in the script and show that he thought CW would disapprove of. But when presented with the ideas for the show, the CW would come back with, “Go further and do more, make it gayer, make it queerer, make it blacker.” Cameron says this happened a few times, and that’s when he knew this network is allowing and encouraging them to make the show they want and push them to the limit.
I have been patiently waiting for this show for a year now. Ever since the solicits revealed the black gay billionaire Tom Swift would be making his way onto Nancy Drew’s show, I have had my antenna wired for this show.
My final reason why this show is for everyone was said so eloquently by Melinda Hsu Taylor.
“We really wanted to make it a show where, no matter what kind of intersectional identity you have, you have somebody to relate to, somebody to cheer for, somebody to hope for and, and feel like, “That’s me. I’m the one who’s in love. I’m the one who’s being desired and pursued. And I’m the one who can change the world. It doesn’t matter where I came from, what I look like, who I love or how I feel on the inside. I’m being celebrated here and now for who I already am.”
This series tells an inclusive story that celebrates the differences and identities that are not usually given this stage to shine. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us. From the fashions, love life, and science to the espionage, family drama, and the looming mystery of what happened to Tom’s dad, I hope you all join me on Tuesday nights to watch these stories unfold.
Since childhood Rhayne has been writing stories inspired by the cartoons, video games, and comic books that would be the building blocks for his career in indie podcasting years later.
When Rhayne isn’t writing novels, he’s live-tweeting about the latest TV series, movie or podcasting about representation in comics and related media on his podcast network, Carefree Black Nerd Podcast (https://apple.co/3NpkGh4).