REVIEW: Amazon’s ‘Them’ Can’t Commit To A Genre or A Story

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Them

Them  is an Amazon Prime Original anthology television series, created for television by Little Marvin and executive produced by Marvin and Lena Waithe. Them season 1 goes as follows: In the 1950’s, the Emory family moves to California and settle into a new home. However, mother Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) and father Henry (Ashley Thomas) must deal with racist behavior from the next-door neighbors including housewife Betty (Alison Pill) while their daughters Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie (Melody Hurd) are slowly drawn into a horrific mystery in their new house.

Ever since the first trailer for Them has dropped, the series has been compared to Get Out and Us-the fact that Wright Joseph had a starring role in the latter didn’t exactly help matters. However, a better comparison would be Lovecraft Country. Both series are set during a certain time period in American history and deal with the racism that continues to plague this country, as well as supernatural forces. However, Lovecraft Country actively leaned into its supernatural elements and even managed to cross into a few other genres during its first season. Them, in contrast, can’t decide whether it wants to be a piece of historical fiction or a horror series as the latter doesn’t really get started until halfway in the series. While I do love stories that blend different genres, if you are going to have horror elements in your story you must fully commit to the premise.

When the horror elements kick in they are genuinely unsettling. Perhaps the most horrific element is the “Tap Dance Man” (Jeremiah Birke) who routinely haunts Ruby, appearing in her nightmares as well as television commercials and other places. Modeled after the extremely racist minstrel shows, Birke’s Tap Dance Man moves with a sinister spring in his step and malevolence etched into his painted face. Other unsettling images include a collection of racist dolls that Betty and her cronies string around the Emory’s front door, the closeups proving rather jarring. I applaud Marvin and his writing team, as well as the directing team, for reappropriating the minstrel figures into truly horrifying images.

However, “jarring” seems to be the only setting for this series-which is the opposite of any good horror story. Lovecraft Country, Us, and Get Out often balanced their scares with genuinely funny moments or their main characters having quiet moments to comfort each other. Even Antebellum delivered an emotional catharsis in its finale. Rarely does that happen in Them-the Emorys are belittled, mocked, and terrorized at every turn, with nary a breather. And over the course of 10 episodes, that feels drawn out — not to mention utterly exhausting. The eighth episode doubles down on that, with its black-and-white setting feeling more like a poppy aesthetic and less like an organic story choice.

The cast itself is hit and miss. Ayorinde displays a simmering undercurrent of anger and regret as Lucky, who is dealing with unresolved trauma from her childhood in addition to the challenges surrounding her. Likewise, Thomas’ Henry deals with multiple microaggressions at work despite the fact that he’s one of the more qualified engineers in the entire organization. Pill on the other hand doesn’t have much more to her character than “extremely racist housewife”-in fact, most of the white characters can be boiled down to “They’re racist.” The best antagonists often have dimensions, and those are severely lacking here.

Them is lackluster with its horror elements, and overbearing with its social commentary, leading to an ultimately dissatisfying experience. Amazon greenlit the series for a two-season order, so hopefully, the second season is an improvement.

Them is streaming exclsuively on Amazon Prime April 9, 2021.

Them: Covenant
  • 6/10
    Rating - 6/10
6/10

TL;DR

Them: Covenant is lackluster with its horror elements, and overbearing with its social commentary, leading to an ultimately dissatisfying experience. Amazon greenlit the series for a two-season order, so hopefully, the second season is an improvement.