Saving ‘Tom Swift’ would require keeping what works and tweaking what doesn’t

There are a lot of great reasons to consider saving Tom Swift, if another network wants the challenge. There are both positives and negatives worth exploring, and plenty of potential for this show to get better and better.

Having met Tom Swift as a character in season 2 of Nancy Drew, I was more excited than I can say to tune in and see how his story was going to unfold, as well as how it would link to the Nancy Drew world. As a previous fan of the Arrow-verse crossovers, I was looking forward to seeing these shows work together to create a rich universe of varied and interesting characters. It doesn’t appear that is going to be the case, now, unfortunately, with the cancellation of Tom Swift.

And I don’t necessarily think the CW was wrong here. I loved the characters, the tension, and interpersonal relationships blooming on Tom Swift, but the reality of the show had a few flaws that I think, ultimately, spelled cancellation. So, please read on to see all the things Tom Swift did right, and the things they could’ve worked a little longer on. Let’s start with the positives.

Saving Tom Swift

The Positives

Let’s start with Tom Swift, the man, himself.

Tom Swift
This character is so important, and so well-portrayed by Tian Richards. I loved his energy with Nancy and the gang in his first television outing, and I looked forward to seeing what the artist bringing him to life had to show us every week. I think watching this gay, Black genius inventor every week was wonderful. It’s definitely a perspective largely unrepresented on television, and I certainly enjoyed getting a chance to look at the world through his eyes.

I loved watching him grow and learn more about himself and his family. He stood up for his friends and made mistakes. He saw how his mistakes affected those around him, and began looking inward to see how he could keep from making the same mistakes again. His growth, even in the short time Tom Swift was airing, was pretty remarkable. I was looking forward to seeing how Tom would manage to position himself as the head of a multi-billion dollar corporation, and what that could mean for the world around him.

How about those spicy scenes, people?

The CW has largely been pigeonholed as the network for high schoolers, with shows centering on high school life making up a large portion of their slate the last decade or so. From Dawson’s Creek to The Vampire Diaries, the high school experience has been documented and fictionalized in so many different ways, I was really excited when the CW started leaning more heavily on series whose characters were post-high school or later.

Nancy Drew created this wonderful universe, but Tom Swift took it a step further. We’ve seen characters on Nancy express their sexual interests, and even had a spicy scene or two, but I think Tom Swift went further than that. They took great care to show Tom as a sexual creature, and didn’t shy away from him inviting sexy single men to join him in a fun romp or two. And if saving Tom Swift is even an option, I hope whomever acquires this show would keep firmly on this track.

While other TV shows have had gay, lesbian, and queer couples getting intimate on screen, there was just something different about how this content was done on Tom Swift. It was less delicate, but more intimate. We watched Tom and his partners together, and it felt different than watching these scenes from any other show. I was happy to see the CW taking a chance to really represent the connection and attraction between these characters authentically on network TV.

How about those relationships, though?

Perhaps the most important part of this show was watching the different relationships develop, particularly the friendship between Tom and Kenzie. In a true departure from so many of those other iconic CW teen dramas, there is no romantic attraction between these two. There will be no ‘will they/won’t they’ drama here, so the relationship is based in their actual friendship. Seeing Kenzie get frustrated with Tom, and him learning about how Kenzie’s world differs from his was great television.

I’m a character-driven world kind of girl, so watching a show give its characters room to grow is what I live for. I’m less concerned about every element of the plot lining up exactly right as I am seeing a character make choices and live or die by them. Tom Swift felt like it was doing just that, using the slick and sultry world of corporate America to give these characters a new playground to experiment with. I would love to see where these characters could go in future seasons if another network is interested in saving Tom Swift.

The Negatives

It’s hard to overpower bad special effects

When I first envisioned Tom Swift as a show, I imagined they would do their best to downplay the actual technological part of the world, giving us lots of time with Tom working with elements of his inventions, but grounding them by surrounding him with microchips, tools, and wiring to give these futuristic toys the gravity they deserve. Instead, the show had him inventing (or digging up out of storage) something new every episode. Having to describe each of these products in the episode, as well as demonstrating their practice and/or showing the flaws ate up more time than I’m sure anyone wants to admit. And the visuals were just bad. Maybe having a new invention every week would have been exciting, but, for the most part, we were getting terrible special effects in an attempt to show how futuristic Tom’s designs and inventions were. It ultimately ended up making the show feel out of date and, unfortunately, less relatable.

Why the after-school-special treatment?

Tom Swift
I always loved watching Tom discover things about himself, but almost every episode of Tom Swift featured some lesson he was learning, and usually it was in reference to some piece of tech he invented or a mission he had to complete. It’s really unfortunate, because I think there was a lot about the show that had the potential to teach its viewers, just not the cookie-cutter way Tom Swift went about it.

It felt too much like an after-school special sometimes. That’s the bottom line of it. I don’t need Tom and his mother to outline exactly what Tom learned every episode, or for him to break down the mistakes he made in the show’s dialogue, but instead, I would have liked to have seen him taking the things he learned and turning them into action. A lot of shows suffer from this syndrome, and I think it ultimately spelled doom for Tom Swift. I think this is one aspect that could be easier to remedy than some of my other criticisms, when thinking about saving Tom Swift.

My head could not keep up with the plotlines

Lastly, I wish the show had streamlined some of the plot. While I love a good complicated show where every character has a different motivation and those motivations create insane amount of friction, Tom Swift seemed to just be throwing storylines and plot details at the audience to see what stuck firmest.

The show started with Tom needing to rescue his father, an extremely motivating and complicated plot point. I was on board. I wanted to know what Tom could do from Earth to save his father near Jupiter, not to mention how he was going to keep his exploits a secret from those who could want to hurt his father. All great. Then came the beacon that broke apart, the pieces of which had to be recovered before Tom could take any action to save his dad. So now, in addition to Tom trying to figure out how to save his dad, he has to spend valuable time outside of the lab physically retrieving all those pieces. It felt wholly unnecessary.

Then we get into all the drama with his mom, his father’s right hand woman, Claire, and all the complicated stuff regarding The Road Back, the congressman, and the congressman’s bodyguard who might be a double agent, and there’s just way too much going on for a one-hour show. I found myself flitting from plot point to plot point, unable to fully invest myself in much of any of them. I wish the script could have been pared down and pulled together in a more cohesive way, because Tom Swift had a lot of potential.

Okay, just one more thing

It never sat well with me that Tom’s gadgets felt more science fiction than futuristic. I love the idea of him being a visionary, boundary-defying badass, but some of the things he was coming up with in his lab came with little to no explanation. This show is set in the very realistic world of Nancy Drew, where all of the supernatural creatures she meets, and the things she discovers to fight them and protect her loved ones, are all extremely tactile and understandable. The aglaeca and its history turned that story into one of a woman wronged and her need for peace. The Tiffany Hudson murder mystery ended with Nancy discovering some secrets kept from her, and more peace found for a troubled spirit. The shroud Nancy used to revive George has a magical and supernatural history, but it doesn’t come off as unrealistic. Tom Swift didn’t match Nancy Drew‘s realism, and it left the show feeling disjointed and unapproachable.

Final thoughts

Ultimately, I enjoy Tom Swift. I like the characters, I like the relationships, and I like the heart inside the show, but the futurism and technological aspects kept it from being supremely relatable. I think this show is incredibly important, not only because it had a Black gay man as its lead, but because it is showing how people move through the world with those different labels. Watching Tom enjoy his sexuality, proving himself as an inventor, and trying to right his wrongs make him a complicated and enjoyable main character to cheer for, and a primary reason why saving Tom Swift is more than worthwhile. I just wish the special effects and script had matched that energy.

I hope this is not the last time we see this show or a show of this type. Hopefully, this is only the beginning, and another network drama will pick up the reigns right from where Tom Swift laid them down. Saving Tom Swift would definitely be worth it.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch Tom Swift yet, you can stream all 10 episodes on the CW.