This might sound strange considering it just premiered on The CW, but the network and Warner Bros. Television should bring back Swamp Thing.
We’ll be honest, we were big fans of the series when it debuted on the DC Universe streaming service last year. Both feeling like a proper Swamp Thing comic and the “mature readers” line of comics it spawned in the 1990s, it took its subject seriously and began building out a fascinating world for Swamp Thing and his true love, Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed), to explore. Oh, also, it was not afraid to introduce a relationship between a woman and a plant-based creature. Its mixture of gothic romance and horror set it apart from the other offerings on the service and just about every other DC show Warner Bros. Television had in production at the time. Then, it was over before it even really began.
So we’re definitely pleased to see people are finally discovering the magic in the swamps around Marais, Louisiana, thanks to The CW’s rebroadcast of the series.
Which means it’s time for Warner Television and The CW to hear us out: We need more Swamp Thing. But before we can make our case, let’s look back on what happened to the show in the first place.
As part of the original DC Universe lineup – which include the live action Titans, Doom Patrol, Stargirl and the animated Young Justice and Harley Quinn, a lot of money was poured into the series. Battlestar Galactica’s Mark Verheiden took on the task of developing the series and an expensive swamp set was built near Wilmington, North Carolina. As opposed to the previous Swamp Thing series, this new version would focus on Abby and her experiences coming back to her hometown and facing a “swampborne” virus.
At least, that was the initial pitch.
Reed was soon cast as Abby and the ensemble filled out with Maria Sten, Will Patton, Henderson Wade, and Kevin Durand all playing characters from various Swamp Thing stories. Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Beals played characters made for the series to round out its world while Jeryl Prescott and Ian Ziering signed up to become the first live action versions of Madame Xanadu and Blue Devil – DC Characters with their own supernatural histories. Meanwhile, Derek Mears was cast in the title role with Andy Bean as Swamp Thing’s human form, Dr. Alec Holland.
As DC Universe went live, production began, but trouble soon followed once it, DC Universe, and the whole of Warner Bros. empire became part of the AT&T family. The newly reformatted WarnerMedia took stock of its assets and Swamp Thing seemed something of an outlier. In April 2019, the last three episodes were slashed from the order forcing a brief production pause so Verheiden and his staff could turn episode 10 into a season finale. Some reports suggested creative differences were to blame while others pointed to a miscalculated tax credit as the cause of the fuss.
Then the first episode streamed on DC Universe that May. But before the second could reach fans, DC Universe pulled the plug. No clear reason was given — beyond the first inkling that DC Universe would not be long for this world — and the stories of creative tension and budget shortfalls sprang up again. Some pointed to that swamp set and its price tag as being too rich for the new bosses. In any event, it was clear the series didn’t fit with the already-brewing vision of a Warner streaming service which would emerge as HBO Max, and so it was the only DC Universe scripted series to get the axe.
It is ironic then, that Swamp Thing’s CW premiere would vault into the broadcast top 10 its week.
In a curious twist of fate, The CW acquired the broadcast rights to the series early last summer. Due to the worldwide pandemic, the network decided to postpone all of its usual fall offerings to 2021 as it was clear production could not resume in time for the customary October premieres. In lieu of The Flash and Legacies, The CW hoped Swamp Thing and the Canadian drama Coroner could fill the gap. So far, the bet is paying off with Swamp Thing’s 90-minute premiere earning a 0.2 rating with 1.1 million viewers – reportedly the best numbers the network has seen in its timeslot since May.
And considering the show just gets better with each episode, it is entirely possible Swamp Thing could become a hit The CW would want more of in the years ahead. Network president Mark Pedowitz suggested last May a discussion between the network and Warner Bros. Television could happen under the right circumstances. Granted, putting a second season together would be as big of a challenge as designing a quality Swamp Thing TV show in the first place.
Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle the show would face is the replication of all those start-up costs. That swamp set and the Swamp Thing costume are the two most impressive elements of the production. The suit, a practical effect augmented with some CGI, no doubt exists in the Warner archive. But even just a year’s time in storage could make the suit unusable, necessitating the creation of a new one. Also, that set broke the bank, as it was built for a three-season concept. It wouldn’t surprise us to learn the production intended to amortize the cost over those years.
Of course, The CW can always find ways to save money even without requiring the production to move to Vancouver (although a move next door to Black Lightning in Atlanta would be likely). Then there’s the cast, who were released from their contracts long ago. While the key trio — Reed, Mears, and Bean — may be available, actors like Patton, Madsen, Prescott, and Beals are always working. Not everyone who appeared in the first season is required to tell the continuing saga of the Swamp Thing, a good number of them are still needed to keep Marais a recognizable town. And as CW viewers will see across the next few weeks, Marais is as important to Swamp Thing as “toitle soup.”
On the creative end, it is always possible those reported differences would keep Verheiden and his writers far away from a second season, but such things can always be smoothed over.
Beyond their availability, drawing up new contracts for the production team and on-screen talent would also, no doubt, drive up the budget. But, surely, if The CW wants it, they can figure out a way — even if it means we have to lose, say, Ziering and his Blue Devil to make it work. As long as the key dynamic between Abby, Swamp Thing, and the town survives the transition, even an economical Swamp Thing is worth making.
And that’s the thing, Swamp Thing is worth continuing. Mears (and Bean) proved to be the best possible version of the character. The two actors worked together to create a performance in concert which allowed the show to execute scenes with Swamp Thing and Alec switching places in Abby’s mind on the fly. Also, as much as we loved Dick Durock in the Swamp Thing films and USA series, Mears excelled at bringing the terror and the tenderness of the character to life through a rubber mask, special effects, and tough filming conditions. He deserves the chance to do it again. The same goes for Reed, who is a great series anchor whether having beers with a friend or facing an unspeakable horror in the swamp.
Also, without spoiling things for viewers who haven’t seen the whole season yet, there are at least two incredible cliffhangers we need to see resolved — one of which concerns the arrival of a true physical adversary for Swamp Thing.
So where could the series go if it continued? If the first season asks — and answers — a key question about Swamp Thing’s existence, Season 2 would revolve around what that answer means to him and Abby (while dealing with that new adversary, of course). How do they continue their relationship with this new understanding? It is an idea writer Alan Moore (and artists like Stephen Bissette) explored in a celebrated run on the Swamp Thing comic during the 1980s. He took it to a trippy and poetic extreme in issue #34, a story still talked about to this day. And though an adaptation of it may have been designed for that proposed third season, the “Rite of Spring” was always part of the promise of the show once it decided to play up the romance angle. It might be wildly different for broadcast, but we’d still love to see the series attempt it.
Another part of the show’s promise is Abby and Swamp Thing’s daughter Tefe. And though Susie Coyle (Elle Graham) seems inspired by the character, actually telling the story of how they became parents could be groundbreaking for The CW — especially if they import John Constantine (Matt Ryan) from DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to fulfill his role in those events. In some ways, it is the most unlikely crossover and the one viewers deserve the most. Beyond that, though, is the chance to see the show pivot from romance to a family drama.
Meanwhile, there is also a deeper ecological theme the show can investigate with the notion of the Green — a concept Swamp Thing introduces to Abby during the first season — and his part in it. There is also the eventual fate of Matt Cable (Wade), outside agencies coming into the swamp to find its rumored guardian, the secrets Abby’s managed to keep from her friends, and, of course, a certain relative of hers who is completely absent from the first season.
It is genuinely great material with the potential to bridge the gap between the network’s superheroes, its primetime soap past, and its horror-tinged shows like Legacies and Nancy Drew. And now that we think about it, Supernatural is ending and Swamp Thing could partially fill the Winchester gap in The CW’s schedule. Well, at least for 10 weeks out of the year — there’s no way Swamp Thing could maintain its quality with a 22-episode season.
Of course, Swamp Thing’s future on television may have already been decided. In April 2020, J.J. Abrams signed on to develop an HBO Max series based on DC’s Justice League Dark comic book. Its premise sees characters like John Constantine, the magician Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, and Swamp Thing tackling mystical crimes the superheroes of the mainline Justice League just can’t handle. Details are scarce, so it is unclear which of DC mystical characters are part of the team, but there’s definitely room for Swamp Thing; in fact, making him part of ensemble is a more economical way of keeping him alive on TV.
The catch with that, though, is losing Abby, Liz (Sten) Woodrow (Durand), and the strange world Swamp Thing conjured into existence during its too-brief life. It might also mean losing Mears as Swamp Thing. The unique magic of this cast and crew is very much the thing we’d want to preserve in a second season. We’d much rather see that then Swamp Thing leave Marais for a team scenario.
And if he must be on a team, can’t he be a Legend?
Swamp Thing season 1 airs Tuesdays at 8/7C on The CW.