Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
If anyone watches the CW network, then one knows that the channel does super-hero shows and soap opera-like teen dramas. Of those teen dramas, one of the best is All American (2018), which was an adaptation of a real-life story. Yet, one of the CW’s most successful, teen dramas is Riverdale (2017), an adaptation of the characters from Archie Comics. Based on the relative success of Riverdale, which became a wild, unhinged and dark mystery, the CW decided to find another series that could try to replicate it. Nancy Drew (2019) was the next attempt at soapy and edgy mystery. That series has also seen some relative success, so the network has decided to do another teen mystery series in the same vein as Riverdale and Nancy Drew, so this spin-off was born.
Tian Richards (The Quad and Being Mary Jane) stars as Tom Swift, a character introduced in the second season of Nancy Drew in the episode titled, “The Celestial Visitor.” He’s presented as a younger but African American version of Tony Stark from Iron Man (2008) or the real-life Elon Musk of Tesla. Yet, he’s openly gay. It’s a more diverse and inclusive interpretation of the character created by Edward Stratemeyer in 1910. However, fans of this particular character over the decades will recognize that Tom still has a fascination with outer space and interstellar travel. In addition to him inventing his own artificial intelligence, he’s also invented a rocket capsule that is capable of traveling to Saturn. You’d think that with a premise like that, this series would be more concerned with outer space but instead Tom is more concerned with designer shoes.
Ashleigh Murray (Riverdale and Katy Keene) co-stars as Zenzi, the cousin to Tom who is more like a sister and is his principal confidant. He trusts her but there was a little bit of tension because Zenzi liked Tom’s father. Tom had issues with that parent, mainly because his father came across as very homophobic. Zenzi was practically raised by Tom’s father, her uncle, and she never saw too much of that bad side. She does work for Swift Enterprises, which is the company created by Tom’s father.
Tom works for Swift Enterprises too. His inventions are for that company, so his inventions are ironically for his father. His father is the CEO, but Tom probably works there because he has the ambition of becoming CEO himself. There are a lot of roadblocks before he can get there. First is an overarching mystery that involves Tom trying to find his father who has gone missing after an accident with Tom’s rocket to Saturn. That mystery isn’t as engaging as it probably should be. His father’s disappearance almost feels incidental.
Marquise Vilson (B-Boy Blues and Tales of the City) plays Isaac, a Black transgender man who is also pansexual. He works as the bodyguard to Tom. Isaac and Tom seem to be friends or have a relationship beyond employer-employee. It’s even suggested that Isaac has feelings for Tom that are unrequited. However, a relationship is more likely to blossom between Isaac and Zenzi . Giving a Black trans-man a love story is great for representation on network TV. Giving him some action is also great for representation.
Unfortunately, the series was canceled before any further development could be made with Isaac’s love life. The majority of this series does develop the romantic entanglements between Tom and various gorgeous men. Specifically, we see Tom kiss or hook-up with two beautiful, young guys, such as Justin, played by Hayward Leach (Sneakerella and Love Life) and Rowan, played by Albert Mwangi. That kind of same-sex attraction and activity is bold and provocative in a way, as well as refreshing on broadcast television.
Levar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Roots) voices Barclay, the artificial intelligence that assists Tom in all his adventures and work. Barclay is used as a source for comic relief, much in the way that the voice of the car in Knight Rider (1982) was. Tian Richards is very much sassy and witty, which is where the bulk of the humor here exists, but Burton’s performance adds to the comedy as well. If anyone recalls the character of Chief in the animated series Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? (1994), Burton’s performance is akin to that.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 10 eps.
Available on CW and HBO Max.