Them TV Review
Them TV Review Metabox
Where Misha Green presented a less traumatic view of Jim Crow America in Lovecraft Country, Little Marvin offer’s no such rosy respite in Amazon Prime’s anthology series Them.
Fair warning, Them is not an easy watch, not in this current political climate. The first two episodes focus on the Emorys, the first black family moving into their East Compton neighborhood home in 1956. They are not so subtly tortured and harassed by their ever-smiling neighbors. Allison Pill is Betsy Wendell, the welcome wagon of East Compton who is seriously unnerved by the Emorys’ arrival and the devastating effect a Black family will have on property values. She’s concerned their very presence will destroy the neighborhood. As Betsy mounts a terror campaign to drive them out, Luck (Deborah Ayorinde) and Henry (Ashley Thomas) are working through their separate traumas that threaten to destroy their beautiful new home from the inside. Of course, there’s a supernatural element at work, with little Gracie’s (Melody Hurd) imaginary friend, Miss Vera, an impossibly tall and deeply terrifying schoolmarm from one of her well-worn books. Ruby (Shahadi Wright Joseph) attends high school and, during her formative teen years of identity and self-work, endures her own terror campaign. But this is the integration of Blacks across the United States. Jim Crow thrived in the South and anywhere Black had never existed before, such as relined neighborhoods and deeply segregated suburban towns.
The bright Bakelite colors of the neighborhood and the Wendells and the Dixons of East Compton are a sharp contrast to the muted greens and taupes of the Emorys. The Emorys do not fit in, they are not wanted, and something deep inside the very ground is spoiling for a bloody fight. Homeownership for the Emorys will not be the break from the fear and terror of the previous home they had hoped to achieve. Them reminds us that being polite and smiling big was never an option for families looking for a better life, not when the other side’s politeness and smiles hide a deep resentment for your very existence in their space.
Them isn’t just a story about Black trauma. If it were, it would be too heavy to watch with a deep underlying current of unease and despair. We’re almost led to believe that if it weren’t for the supernatural element causing problems, the Emorys would be welcome over time. That isn’t the case by a long shot. All of it, from the baggage the Emorys bring to the racism projected from their neighbors, peers, and classmates, march towards the inevitable end we know is coming, as we count down the ten days the Emorys spend in East Compton, CA.
Them, an Amazon Studio Series, premiers on Amazon Prime April 9, 2021. Everyone smokes, there’s day drinking, rampant racist gaslighting, and the N-word is dropped more than can be considered casual. Them will not be for everyone.