Saturday, September 10, 2022

Tom Swift and His Mind-Boggling TV Show

The Tom Swift television series is an example of what not to do when creating a new project.  The show could have been good, but every possible mistake was made that ultimately guaranteed that the show would fail.  

The writers of the Nancy Drew series from The CW wanted to do a spin-off series.  They went to a lot of trouble to adjust the Nancy Drew storyline so that Tom Swift could be introduced.  The organization known as "The Road Back" was built into the Nancy Drew series solely as a means of creating the Tom Swift backdoor pilot.  This is why The Road Back is no longer a part of the Nancy Drew show.  It's a shame, since The Road Back worked quite well in Nancy Drew.

The Road Back is a scary organization.  The idea was that they would go up against Swift Enterprises and would sabotage new projects, since they are against technological advances.

So far, so good, right?

Tom Swift was introduced in a season 2 episode of Nancy Drew.  Tom helped Nancy investigate the building where the The Road Back originated decades ago.  I had forgotten about the plot of the Tom Swift backdoor episode, and now that I remember, I am mystified about the complete disconnect between the groundwork that had been laid in Nancy Drew and what ended up being the content of the Tom Swift spin-off series.  It truly is "mind-boggling."

I liked the Tom Swift backdoor episode well enough, while some other fans didn't.  I'm not a Tom Swift fan, so I had no expectations one way or the other.  I thought it was great that another Stratemeyer series was going to be on television.  I was just going along for the ride, regardless.

This is my summary of the entire Tom Swift series.  My summary spoils the cliffhanger ending, which will never be resolved.  I doubt that anyone will mind the spoiler, since I'm thus far the only series book fan who has admitted to watching all 10 episodes.  Apparently most viewers were unable to get past the first one or two episodes.

Tom builds a spaceship to send his dad to Saturn.  All goes well, until the ship is sabotaged.  Tom learns that his father is alive and lost in space.  A capsule containing important information is sent back to Earth, but the capsule breaks apart.  Tom has to find the capsule pieces so that he can rescue his father.  But wait! 

The main story gets sidetracked repeatedly while much time is devoted to making sure that viewers understand that Tom is gay and that everyone knows the definition of words like "pansexual."  All of Tom's acquaintances are gay, bi, or trans, and viewers learn about all of that as well. 

The show makes it easy to know who the villains are.  The main villain is the only white character.  The secondary villain is an Asian woman.  The rest of the cast is black.

Tom cannot control his anger and resentment, which causes him to get into petty fights at dinner.  Tom slowly finds some capsule pieces, while constantly being distracted by everything else.  The capsule pieces don't seem that important, after all.

Tom learns about The Road Back.  They want to slow down technology by sabotaging Swift Enterprises, but Tom mostly ignores the threat.  Tom's mother doesn't get along with Tom and doesn't seem to like him, but she suddenly decides that Tom will help her build a black utopian society either in the mountains or on another planet.  Strangely, Tom and his mother promptly forget about that plan.

Tom's adoptive brother Lino suddenly develops superpowers!  He can break through steel and do pretty much anything.  No time to think about that since Tom learns that his father used anti-gay gummy vitamins on him when he was young.  Tom is now done with his dad and doesn't care if he gets rescued.  Tom's friends race to find the last capsule pieces and somehow find them right before the end of the series finale.  Tom reluctantly decides to help bring his father home after a plea from his mother. 

Just as the mission appears to be a success, a traveler from the future sabotages the rescue.  Tom is told that his dad has passed through a wormhole into the year 2096.  The series ends, leaving Tom's dad forever lost in the future.  

The first episode is weak, and the second episode is bad.  The show improves with the third and fourth episodes.  For the remainder of its run, the show flounders between good content and utter stupidity.

Admittedly, I was not in the target audience, so I frequently didn't understand the humor.  I did learn some new vocabulary, like what a "side hoe" is.  I feel enriched.

The show missed many opportunities.  The show is classified as a mystery drama series, but it is so stupid and silly. 

Tom is depicted as a stereotypical gay person played for laughs.  Since it's apparent that the showrunners wanted to make a statement with this show, their depiction of Tom worked against their purpose.  Tom is wealthy and a gifted inventor.  The show's purpose would have been better served to have had Tom more serious but still gay.

The show suffered from too many different plots.  The idea of building a black utopian society is mentioned partway through the series and then the idea is dropped.  What was the point?  

Why go to so much trouble to embed The Road Back in the Nancy Drew series (quite a few episodes with a major character murdered by them) and then have Tom act like the organization means nothing to him? 

I thought that the Tom Swift series would have the same tone as Nancy Drew.  If it had, it would have been so much better.

The show failed to attract series book collectors.  It was a mistake making Tom not white.  Allow me to explain.  Series book fans are very particular that the characters in filmed versions must look exactly the same as the characters were depicted on the covers of the books.  

Around 20 years ago, a contentious debate about Nancy Drew's hair color occurred in a Nancy Drew discussion group on the now-defunct Yahoo! Groups.  In the discussion, race was never mentioned, and it was a given that Nancy was white.  The debate had nothing to do with race.  Members became quite heated as some insisted that Nancy should have blonde hair, while others insisted that Nancy should have red hair.  As for me, I watched the debate unfold, puzzled as to why everyone was so upset.  After all, Nancy's hair has been both blonde and red on the covers of the books.  Why was it such a big deal?

I have no doubt that Tom Swift fans wanted to see a Tom Swift with blond hair and blue eyes.  Some might call it racism, but it is really just the fact that they want the character to appear just like on the books.  The character was white on the covers of the books.

The Nancy Drew series on The CW kept Nancy Drew white and with red hair, which is one of the hair colors.  While many fans do not like the premise of the Nancy Drew show, nobody has complained about the physical appearance of the actress.  The show has a diverse cast, which has been accepted well. Tom Swift would have had a better chance if the primary character had looked like the books and been surrounded by a diverse cast.

Changing Tom's appearance and completely departing from the premise of the book series caused Tom Swift fans to bail on the project.  Tom Swift is an old franchise whose fans are mostly all over the age of 50 and are predominantly white.  Those people are far outside the target demographic.  So what was the point of using the Tom Swift name?

Since this series was a spin-off of CW's Nancy Drew, fans of that series should have been interested in the show.  They didn't even care.  The below screen capture is from the Nancy Drew CW subreddit and is from the week that the Tom Swift show premiered.  

Out of 342 respondents, 261 didn't bother to watch the premiere of Tom Swift.  These people are in the Nancy Drew CW subreddit and are exactly the people who should have been invested in a spin-off series.  76% of them didn't watch the premiere of Tom Swift.  So what was the point of doing a Tom Swift spin-off from Nancy Drew?  

The Tom Swift television series was aimed at a certain demographic.  I can guess that the demographic is primarily black and overlaps heavily with LGBTQ+.  I also assume that the target demographic is fairly young.  Apparently, those people didn't watch the show, either.  Most of them probably didn't know about the show, and if they had, the name Tom Swift would have had little name recognition. 

I spent a lot of time reading reviews about the series back in June and July.  Here are some of them.

From Google:

"Nope. Too much Extra added TO the extra. Trying way too hard and failing."

"This show is extra if nothing else."

"The show is clearly aiming for a demographic (hair extension) that is not remotely like me or any series collector.  The target demographic does not even slightly overlap with Tom Swift fans."

From IMDB:

"Tom Swift is Black ... and gay.  And likes to weld bare chested."

"I tried to get through the first two episodes.  It was mental root canal."

Many of the negative reviews were removed.  Here is one from IMDB that another fan captured a few days before it disappeared.

This comment from Reddit is one of the best observations about this series that I've read:

"I couldn't exactly pin what was bugging me about it but you 100% hit the nail on the head.  Its been a long time since I have seen a pilot for a show that was so clearly a pilot trotting out way too many unnecessary an underdeveloped story beats because its not really meant to appeal to a real audience, its meant to appeal to a board of CW executives."

The showrunners tried to do too much with this show, and most of it didn't work.  

I like the main story about the capsule pieces, and I enjoyed some of the humor, at least when I could understand it.  The show is so over-the-top that I laughed at the show while I watched it.  Some of Tom's outfits are so ridiculous.  My favorite ridiculous outfit is Tom's in the below scene.  

The showrunners claimed that we would have a satisfying ending.  No, we didn't.  We don't know what would have happened with Lino's superpowers.  Tom's dad will be forever stuck in 2096.  The Road Back appears to be still active based on comments near the end of the finale.  How is this satisfying?  I was disappointed when the finale ended, because I wanted answers.

In closing, I enjoyed watching this series.  You probably expected me to say that I didn't, but I got a kick out of the experience.  It was sort of like how I have enjoyed writing some of my Nancy Drew Diaries reviews, like Heliotrope Lane.  Even though Tom has character flaws, I like Tian Richards.  I like Tom's best friend, Zenzi, and his adoptive brother, Lino.  I also like Tom's bodyguard, Isaac.  I enjoyed the main plot.  I really would like to see how the story would be resolved.  The chance of this show getting picked up on another network is nil, so I'm disappointed that I will never know.

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