“With its visceral racism and supernatural elements, Them is an unmissable but uncomfortable watch”
Created by Little Marvin, ‘THEM‘ is a ten-episode Amazon Original Series. The show is a complex combination. A series that takes the theme of racist attitudes in 1950s America. Throws in a dose of supernatural elements. Adds the spice of family tragedy. Hands the audience a plot describing episode near the end of the season. Sprinkles in a liberal dose of racist language. Adds a pinch of white supremacy. Blends it all together and serves it up.
Is it a tasty blend? Absolutely not. Is it disturbing at times? Completely. Does it shock you on occasion? Yes, it does. Is it worth watching? Yes, it is but be warned, it is most certainly not a comfortable watch.
The premise of the show is this. A black family moves to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles during ‘The Great Migration’ (check up on it in your history books). Once they arrive, they are confronted with forces, malevolent, racist, human, next door, and supernatural which taunt, threaten, attack, ravage, and threatens to destroy them. All of this is played out over the course of ten days. During the ten days (and ten episodes), we follow the Emory family as events from their past are revealed. Visions plague the family (mother, father, and two daughters) alongside behavior that hinders their acceptance into their new neighborhood.
The family moves into a street in East Compton, Los Angeles. Immediately. they are viewed with repulsion and suspicion. Mainly by the unofficial leader of the street, Betty Wendell (a chilling performance by Alison Pill). With the other wives in tow, Betty goes out of her way to make the family feel unwanted and unwelcome. With her husband and the other male occupants planning acts against the family to drive them away, things slowly build up. Tensions rise, threats are made and some despicable acts are committed against the family.
The mother of the Emory family, Lucky (played brilliantly by Deborah Ayorinde) is driven to distraction by these events. On the first day in her new home, after a heart-wrenching discovery, she pulls a gun out and threatens her new neighbors. On day three, an incident involving one of the neighbors’ children leads to a confrontation. All this is observed by the families on the street with smug satisfaction and hatred. Her husband, Henry (Ashley Thomas) has been hired as an engineer. Only to discover he is the only person of color in the department he is assigned and is viewed with disgust by his white co-workers. He too is suffering visions, mainly of ‘Da Tap Dance Man’ (an outstanding performance from Jeremiah Birkett).
The family’s eldest daughter, Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) has been enrolled at the local high school. Here, she is shunned by everyone for the color of her skin. In one lesson, when she goes to answer a question asked by her teacher before she can utter a single word, her white classmates all begin to loudly make monkey noises. Many of them start imitating the primates and their habits in a display of pure racial diatribe. It is shocking and something that will make the audience want to shy away from what they are seeing. The teacher takes pity on her and sends her out of the class. However, she is given a note saying ‘she’ is being disruptive in class.
While sitting by the principal’s office, Ruby meets a white girl, Doris (Sophie Guest) who introduces herself and tries to make friends with Ruby. Ruby begins to warm to Doris and they begin to hang out together. But their friendship quickly leads to a disturbing turn of events. And something which is bound to stir up controversy.
The youngest child, Gracie (Melody Hurd, who MUST have a bright future ahead of her) is consumed with a character in her book. One that she says is inside the house. One which is watching her. She even tells her mother that it is watching them from the dark corner of the basement. Her mother is disbelieving until she is confronted by a shadowy figure wearing a black hat. Who is this figure and what is it doing in their basement? All is revealed in time but it does lend a decent air of mystery to the season.
The show manages to hold our attention and keeps us guessing from the outset. But I found it had a bit TOO much in common with writer/director Jordan Peele’s works. For some strange reason, I found myself at times thinking that the entire season was ripping off Peele and his movies. His film ‘Get Out‘ and this show share common traits. But at times, I felt like I was watching a cash-in of a lesser Peele work. However, that’s not to say the show isn’t worth following from the start. It is disturbing, upsetting, and designed to make us think. It doesn’t solve everything by the climax and some threads are left open.
There are violence, foul language, and a nasty undertone throughout the season. And some of what is shown aren’t for the easily offended or weak of heart. It is designed to make us talk the events through and be disturbed by what happens to the family. There is a moment in the third episode that will make you smile and shout “Good for you, Henry” at the screen.
With that in mind though, I can see the complaints coming from viewers already regarding the content and the racial slurs that are present from the start. Many people will find offense with some aspect or another of the show. But it will stick in the mind afterward and will provoke debate. Which is a good thing.
The show and its events NEED to be discussed and evaluated. It is true that the supernatural and jump scares during the season are somewhat frightening. But what is the scariest thing of all is the mindset of the human race. Its desire to persecute a section of society is the most horrifying thing. To watch people attack, humiliate and attempt to destroy something they don’t understand. That frightens them. That is different from themselves. To wish death on people of a different race and creed. That is the most frightening thing of all.
In conclusion, a solid start if the show is to continue on past this first season. After the twists and turns of the first season, it is a given that a second season will feature a new cast. Although there are plot threads that are left unfinished, the unnerving mystery is all but resolved by the finale. But if the next season goes in a different direction, I’ll still be there to check it out.
The ten-episode Amazon Original Series launches exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 9th April 2021.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Entertainment/Books and Literature Correspondent for The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!