From the second we’re introduced to Tom Swift, it becomes clear the theme of the series is Black Excellence.
In the first episode of The CW’s new series, we are constantly reminded how ridiculously wealthy the Swifts are. This family of Black geniuses is responsible for most of the world’s technological advancements, and they’re not afraid to let you know it.
What makes all this so special is that in the original early 1900s books, Tom Swift is a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white All-American young man. The books were first published in 1910, so some of them featured extremely racist portrayals of Black people. They were either wild savages or children who couldn’t function without white saviors. There was no in-between.
Fast forward 100 years and now Tom Swift is a successful Black, gay inventor whose family is set to take the world into space. (Yes, even fictional billionaires are trapped in a space race.) Swift Enterprises is ready to send a ship to Saturn, with Tom’s father, Barton, manning the mission. Before he leaves, Barton tells Tom that he’s disappointed in his “sensitive” son and Tom won’t be named acting CEO while he’s gone. If you’ve ever watched TV, you know where this is going. Six months later, Tom, his best friend Zenzi (Ashleigh Murray), his mother (April Parker Jones) and a group of close friends and business associates are gathered to contact Barton, but his ship suddenly explodes. This sets Tom on a quest to solve the mystery of the explosion and the conspiracy behind it.
Tian Richards portrays Tom as a complex, tortured soul. Outwardly, he lets everyone think he’s this flighty, spoiled rich kid who doesn’t care what the world thinks of him. Of course, it’s quickly made clear that on the inside he’s a sad, lonely boy who just wants his father’s approval and is acting out for attention. Losing his father forces Tom to finally grow up and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around his moods and whims. Though it’s hard to root for him at times, Richards never loses sight of Tom’s genuine goodness and love for his family.
While he struggles with his complicated relationship with his father, and the fact that he keeps disappointing his mother, Tom also recognizes that being his unapologetic self is what makes him the confident, cocky genius he is. His individuality is what will ultimately save his family and the company. The character never tries to fit some acceptable TV mold of what a Black, gay man is supposed to be, he’s just an interesting, flawed person who we follow on this fascinating journey.
It’s important that TV and movies showcase the representation of Black, queer characters, but also that they’re allowed to be more than just stereotypes and props. Tom’s sexuality is a big part of who he is and it certainly defines some of his relationships, but it’s not his only characteristic. It’s an important distinction that not all series and films have figured out yet.
With an amazing cast of actors and a story focused on a Black family who refuse to apologize for their success, I can’t stress how groundbreaking this show is. Considering what a real game-changer Tom Swift could be, it’s a little disappointing that The CW didn’t give this the same marketing push it gave All American: Homecoming and Naomi. A series centered around a Black, queer scientific genius is the TV unicorn audiences have been waiting for and the network needs to highlight its importance.
If, like me, you weren’t expecting much from The CW, prepare to be very pleasantly surprised. The characters and story are interesting, the cast has captivating chemistry and the mystery feels grounded. This could be a nice, enjoyable summer show.
Tom Swift stars Tian Richards as Tom, Ashleigh Murray as Tom’s best friend Zenzi, Marquise Vilson as Tom’s bodyguard Isaac, April Parker Jones as Tom’s mother Lorraine, Christopher B. Duncan as Barton Swift and the voice of LeVar Burton as AI Barclay. It airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW, then streams on The CW app.