1 out of 5
Created by: Little Marvin
covers season 1
You watch a show, and then, maybe one or two episodes from the end – you’ve made your way through the majority of the season – you shrug, and walk away. You’re not even bothered enough to hate-watch the conclusion. You just… don’t care.
I really didn’t mind the copycat-“Us” look of Them, borrowing its highly stylized look and reminiscent title font for a serialized version of Jordan Peele’s black-centric horror. Having been pleased, but not overly impressed, by Peele’s efforts, I was kinda hoping someone might take advantage of some of the powerful themes in his first two directorial works and marry them to something a bit edgier, and the marketing behind Them seemed to suggest it could offer that. Little Marvin’s show is, indeed, quite over the top, but he then went too far beyond that, delivering something that’s all nervy images and no soul, wading through what feels like an ultimately shallow version of its characters’ experiences that amounts to absolutely nothing.
The show can be rather easily distracting, and plays a good game at pretending it’s going somewhere; that’s kinda why it took me all season to realized I’d tapped out. And the premise has a wild amount of potential, capturing the horrific alienation a black family undergoes during a 50s move from the South to an all-white neighborhood in L.A., pitching the hazing efforts of the other housewives, and the constant streams of direct and indirect aggressions aimed at the children at school, or at the father at his engineering job, as tweaked mini-nightmares, while backfilling the the family’s history in their former home, showing us the cracks that existed quite before they’re shaken further apart by their modern day experiences. That’s… perfect. Take us through it, episode by episode, revealing more, twisting the knife. Or: you can jump right into jump scares and cross the line into ridiculousness before you’ve established a baseline of reality, and start dropping creepy imagery without the tonal context to make them creepy, because Little Marvin and his crew clearly had some pictures in mind of cool-looking sequences he couldn’t wait to have on film, and so wait he did not. Them doesn’t have any patience before it rolls into these vistas, nor does it have much sense of pacing in how they’re spaced apart.
And so none of this has any impact. It lurches from one odd camera angle to the next, dropping scenes of 50s Father Knows Best versus its black family but not bothering to stitch them much to a consistent narrative or agenda, and rather coming across as something of a misery porn variant, co-opting this growing sub-genre and assuming that just using particular images automatically grants those images depth. There’s surely anger that comes through, but it’s not wedded to anything – so as either exploitation or a think piece, it kinda flops. Add atop that there’s maybe a ghost, and then a character who’s been abhorrent the entire time has a failed attempt at being made somewhat more sympathetic via a rather disconnected subplot, and there are some really great actors with some decent lines – Ashley Thomas and Deborah Ayorinde as the husband and wife are standouts, commended for always remaining on edge in their performances – but they act their hearts out in a story that doesn’t allow them to go anywhere with that passion.
Those final two episodes, when I got around to watching them, did show how there was enough here to work for a movie worth of material, but in stretching it out to ten episodes, the journey becomes pretty pointless. One star maybe isn’t necessarily fair, given the isolated aspects which are appealing, but as it’s all in service of that pointlessness, it also doesn’t seem fair to rate it much higher than that.