‘Tom Swift’: An Out of This World Show That Deserves a New Home

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Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

Let’s get this out of the way: it’s never a good thing to hear that a show has been cancelled. A cancellation means lost jobs, devastated fans, and in many cases abrupt, cliffhanger endings. But there are cancellations that are unexpected and sad, and then there are those that hurt in a way that goes deeper than the loss of a comfort show. Tom Swift is one such example. After only airing five episodes, The CW announced that the freshman series would not return for a second season, concluding after its initial run of 10 episodes. With just the season (and possibly series) finale left to air this week, fans have been mourning its loss while trying to find it a new home.

What makes Tom Swift’s loss hurt that much more? First and foremost, it is a show that fans had supported starting years before its premiere, with all the expectations and promise that implies. Tom Swift is a Nancy Drew spin-off first announced in October 2020. Tom (Tian Richards) made his debut on an episode of that parent series before officially getting the series order greenlight. Tom’s story in the series picks up several years later, with Tom racing against time to bring his father home from a disastrous space mission sabotaged by the evil conspiracy group known as The Road Back. Ever since the initial plans for Tom’s spin-off were made public, hardcore “Drewds” were rallying for the “Swift Squad,” building an audience before the backdoor pilot was even shot. Its fans are deeply invested in its success, having truly been there from the start.

Of course, the main reason those outside the Nancy Drew bubble have likely heard of Tom Swift is its representation. When the series first premiered in May, it was hailed as a triumph of representation, with leading man Tom becoming the first gay Black male lead on a network series. That fact alone created plenty of buzz among queer outlets. But that commitment to queer rep didn’t begin and end with the charismatic billionaire. Tom’s best friend and bodyguard Isaac is transgender and pansexual, and we also meet Tom’s “situationship” Justin and non-binary Swift Enterprises intern Quinn.

The diversity also goes beyond sexuality and gender, with whole episodes devoted to deep dives into the Black maternal mortality crisis and white supremacy’s insidious effect on society. It is a youth-skewing take on the late, great Lovecraft Country in many ways, and like that acclaimed series, the Tom Swift writers have an uncanny ability to work these difficult topics into the plot without sacrificing the hilarity and joy that make it unique.

Make no mistake — Tom Swift is entertaining as hell, with zingers that go by so quickly you will need to rewind to make sure you didn’t miss the extra joke and sci-fi wackiness that’s just believable enough to be fun. It’s like 30 Rock‘s pop culture references had a baby with Gilmore Girls‘ fast talking, and then that baby grew up to be a Black, gay version of Iron Man. Tom is the hero, despite his stubbornness and emotional stumbles. He gets to play with the fun gadgets, a James Bond figure with an expensive designer outfit for every occasion. Tom Swift is queer joy personified even as Tom goes through hardships, one of the rare shows centering on queerness that understands that trauma does not have to be the sole feature of a queer character.

This writer’s room is overwhelmingly young, LGBTQIA+, and racially diverse, and many are on their first writing staff. This makes an enormous difference to the quality of the representation and frankly, on the quality of the show itself. It gets the Zillennial sense of humor better than any show out there, and because many of the writers share identities with the characters, there is more leeway in the kind of jokes that its characters can get away with. They understand what it’s like to be queer right now, in this strange and unprecedented historical moment.

It also means that when Tom Swift chooses to delve into more emotionally fraught territory, there is an authenticity that makes it that much more devastating. While a fictional show about rockets to Saturn and secret societies shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of educating its audience about history, Tom Swift has served as a point of introduction about the kind of Black history that is not taught in the American public school system to its viewers, much like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country brought the Tulsa massacre to the forefront of national conversations on race.

In the penultimate episode of the season, Tom discovers that his father Barton tried to secretly use medical conversion therapy on him as a middle schooler. While Tom had known for a while that Barton was uncomfortable at best with his sexuality, the revelation devastates him. His reaction is heartbreaking, with Tom falling to his knees in anger and anguish as surrogate sister Zenzi holds him.

This scene simply wouldn’t have had the same impact it did without a season’s worth of queer writers and producers building towards this moment featuring a queer actor giving his all. Having diverse talent behind the camera creating diverse stories is crucial to quality representation. As wonderful as it is to have LGBTQ characters in any media, so often they are left in the hands of straight writers who are careless at best and actively harmful at worst in their characterization. In Tom’s world, the default setting is queer rather than straight, and damn if it isn’t refreshing.

As fans banded together to support such a groundbreaking show, the Tom Swift fandom quickly became a haven for queer, BIPOC viewers. They were welcomed with open arms by the show’s writers, whose joint Twitter account is truly a thing of beauty. Much like the Drewds, the Swift Squad is one of the most pleasant and inclusive fandom experiences out there. Most importantly, it is a safe space for fans who may not feel welcome in other fandoms due to their race, gender identity, or sexuality.

Tom Swift should be getting the kind of audience that has propelled Our Flag Means Death, Heartstopper, and First Kill to success. Bold, hilarious, and unapologetically queer, Tom Swift stands out in the crowded television landscape and deserves another chance to thrive. This show, and this fandom, deserve a new home that will allow Tom’s adventures to continue to Saturn and beyond.

Tom Swift‘s series finale airs Tuesday, August 2 at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.

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By Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.
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