The CW’s newest mystery-filled drama, Tom Swift, follows a Black family of tech moguls as they recover from the loss of patriarch Barton Swift during a voyage to Saturn. This propels Barton’s son, Tom, into a dangerous adventure to help his father.
Since the show started as a spinoff of Nancy Drew, and airs on The CW, viewers may have preconceptions about what to expect. However, Tom Swift is a smart, funny, emotionally layered, interesting story. Tom Swift himself, played by Tian Richards, spoke to The Root about his complex character and the fun of getting to be a genius.
The series is groundbreaking on a lot of levels, but most noticeably is the idea that Tom and his family are not apologizing for, or trying to hide, their wealth. On TV, Black people normally have to be conflicted or guilty about their success, so this is such a welcome change.
“We don’t know an experience in this country without oppression,” Richards said. “So for this to be a family who has the luxury of coming from not only money, but they can trace their heritage. We can’t trace what country or what tribe we come from, so we built all of this culture for ourselves, and even that is picked apart, criticized and appropriated. So for them to have such an intact legacy, I think they know the importance of that and you walk around with that reverence, and it makes you hold your head a little higher.”
Despite his outwardly confident personality, Tom is actually still just a lonely little boy searching for his parents’—specifically his father’s—approval. It’s both aspects of the character that make Tom, and Richards’ portrayal of him, so fascinating.
“We all walk out into the world with this armor, this persona of who we have to be to survive. But behind that is our inner child. A scared, insecure, being who just wants to be loved, accepted and protected,” he said. “The world takes that away from you and it’s even more damaging when the person in your household who you look to as your example, as your pillar of love and manhood doesn’t affirm that. Tom has had to be all the things for himself that were taken from him.”
“Showing up in a room and being proud of who you are. Those things aren’t taught, you have to accumulate them by way of experiencing some trauma,” Richards continued. “I love to do that. I love that we have a character on-screen, who is Black, who is queer, who will get to be all of the different complicated, complex, messy things that we see so many characters being, but we’re usually restricted from because our humanity isn’t always in full.”
Tom is a particularly interesting character because he’s not some emotionless robot of a genius. He wears his heart on his sleeve, meaning he will never miss a chance to tell those around him—friend and foe alike—exactly what he thinks. These moments, mixed with his spectacular creations, offer Richards some truly amazing dialogue to work with.
“This is the time of my life because I get to be two things I am in real life but on steroids. I get to be smart and a smartass, because I’m both things and I wear it proudly. I think when you do work at a certain intelligence level, your humor, your understanding of how you take in the world is so different,” he said. “It may offend some people, but I think it comes from such an honest place, that it’s never taken in any derogatory way. I think it’s all in the way you dish it. A good read, a good turning of a phrase, it’s all in the presentation. It’s about tact. You can tell somebody to ‘Go to hell and then look forward to the trip.’ I love that. I love playing with the language.”
“Then all the tech stuff. It’s so eye-opening because Tom is an MIT grad, and I was able to spend a little time and just see the aerospace department and all the students,” Richards added. “But we also have the pleasure of being a sci-fi show, so a lot of stuff can be made up and created. It’s the marrying of fantasy and real-life problems every day, and problem-solving. I’m loving it, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes.”
With TV in the dog days of summer, now is a great time to jump in and catch up on Tom Swift. It’s the perfect blend of humor, family drama and mystery.
Tom Swift airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW and is also available to stream on The CW app.