Pace Is The Trick: The Swarm - Season 1 (2023) - Reviewed

Images courtesy BetaFilm

Some shows enjoy the sublime boost of mirroring or predicting currents events. The Simpsons has benefited from this for decades, but a new German-produced ecological thriller also gets to capitalize on this. The first episode of The Swarm (2023) sees orcas attacking fishing boats off the coast of Vancouver Island; the explanation is not sea animals wanting to attack the rich, but a more mysterious, sci-fi explanation.

This relevance is one of the best parts of the series, which just finished its eight episode run last week. Another strength is its focus on the plausible science behind the sci-fi ecology. The show prioritizes getting the science and pacing right for a worldwide catastrophe by having various sea creature-related events occur in a more realistic timetable.

Besides the orcas, Leon Anawak (First Nation actor Joshua Odjick), a marine biologist working on Vancouver Island, witnesses some other threatening behavior by humpback wales, including an attack on a sightseeing boat tour. This is just one of many significant events that happen each episode in various parts of the world. German marine biologist and PhD candidate Charlie Wagner (Leonie Benesh) tracks some spooky happenings with temperature spikes at a research base in the Shetland Islands. Meanwhile, Dr. Cecile Roche (Cecile de France) deals with a viral outbreak in coastal France thanks to a humorous scene with a poisonous lobster. Other incidents in Japan and Africa bring together other scientists, boat captains, and shady financiers to figure out what the escalating sea threats are about.

The Swarm

All of the experts don’t end up together until the last three episodes and begin to present their theories to actual global agencies, like the World Health Organization, until episode five. Committing to this pace provides more room for plausible scientific explanations and also character development. However, this extra time isn’t utilized well. Most characters still seem to have only one notable personality trait. A little bit of soap opera occurs with some characters, but no one’s relationships are that engaging or entertaining. This makes for small emotional stakes when someone dies.

The series could be compared to Michael Crichton books or film adaptations, which also prioritized the science used in the stories. The Swarm scriptwriters consulted with many different deep-water and polar researchers, as well as marine biologists.

This was a helluva collaboration between so many different European tv production companies, including Germany, Sweden, France, and Japan. There are more executive producers credited for the series than there are main characters. In spite of this being the most expensive German television series, the $40 million budget is pretty evident. The CGI looks pretty cheap, but the lighting and cinematography help to elevate this. No large-scale action sequences are witnessed, either, with only the build-up and aftermath happening on screen.

The series could also be a win for its representation of various characters of different ethnicities and orientations. This, along with its focus on science and realistic global pacing, are the show’s strengths. If the characters had been more well-rounded and the production values more evident, this could have been a step forward for sci-fi shows.

The Swarm is currently streaming on ViaPlay, but is not available in the United States. US distribution rights were sold to the CW Network in May, so this could make its way to our shores soon.