TV, Interrupted: Why Swamp Thing Should Be Resurrected

(Welcome to TV, Interrupted, a series where the /Film team remembers, eulogizes, and makes a case for the revival of TV shows we loved that were canceled far too soon.)

There are a number of genre series in TV history that were sadly, and famously, canceled all-too-soon. "Firefly," "Hannibal," "Angel," and "Freddy's Nightmares" all arguably fit the bill — each a series whose cancelation had nothing to do with its remaining potential. One horror series that was positively brimming with quality, depth, and richness before its untimely cancelation was "Swamp Thing," the innovative DC Universe series whose axing was announced mere days after its pilot episode aired.

The announcement of the series' surprising cancelation even caught series producer James Wan off guard, who wrote an Instagram post explaining:

"Don't really know or understand why #Swampthing was cancelled, but I can tell you this — all the cast and crew, and producing/writing team poured their hearts into this. Really proud of everyone's hard work. Go watch episode 2, and immortalize these 10 episodes. Swampy deserves it."

Two things make the cancelation so mysterious. Despite a host of artificial production complications (we'll get into that), "Swamp Thing" is really, genuinely great. To quote Levar Burton, "you don't have to take my word for it" — the series garnered critical acclaim, earning a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a nomination for Best Streaming Superhero Series at the 45th Saturn Awards. 

Additionally, the abrupt cancelation of "Swamp Thing" had nothing to do with ratings. Being canceled less than a week after the pilot curtailed its ability to grow, and while it's difficult to find reliable pilot numbers related to the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service, the series' later re-premiere on The CW netted a hefty 1.1 million viewers. A series with so much potential if only given a chance, let's explore both the mysterious cancelation and why "Swamp Thing" deserves to rise from the swamp again.

Why Swamp Thing Was Great

There have been a number of great horror series, from the smooth artistic stylings of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery" to Mike Flanagan's ability to make literally any house a horror show. "Swamp Thing," to this life-long horror fan at least, is one of the best in recent memory. With a modern genre titan like James Wan behind it, combined with the modern technology and budget to make a comics-accurate version of Swamp Thing himself, the series was able to pull off what even horror legend Wes Craven's 1982 adaptation never could: a genuinely frightening yet also nuanced interpretation of one of DC's most stunning horror-centric comic properties.

DC Comics introduced the character in "House of Secrets" #92, and premiered the first "Swamp Thing" solo comic in 1972. Ratings fell towards the series' end, and in the mid 1980s DC gave a young Alan Moore editorial approval to revamp the property. His well-regarded run highlighted the character's monstrosity and horror elements, earning the publisher several Jack Kirby Awards for Moore's run between 1985-1987. That outing very much inspired the series creators, whose exploration of its deep mythology and commitment to its horror elements set the series apart from other DC properties.

Whereas Wes Craven's entry was somewhat silly, under-budgeted, and made with no knowledge of its existing comic background, the 2019 effort doubled down on effective horror backed by that rich knowledge of the series' history. The titular entity was performed by seasoned genre performer Derek Mears with a deep humanity beneath the monstrosity, and it was a gorgeous, thoughtful, frightening ride from start to finish. What's most impressive is the consistent level of quality they maintained despite a production process that, too, had its difficulty level artificially ramped sky-high.

Why Swamp Thing Was Canceled

The troubles of the "Swamp Thing" series didn't end begin with its abrupt cancelation announcement; they began in production. Originally slated for a 13-episode first season, the series was cut to 10 episodes by Warner Bros. Television in the middle of shooting. Virginia Madsen commented on the changed series order (in a since-deleted Instagram post), "I'm beyond sad. What a terrible decision. We have been cut to the core by those who have never set foot into the Swamp." The abrupt series hastening soon became an abrupt cancelation which so surprised the crew that, to quote an anonymous producer via Business Insider, the crew "walked away with the sets standing [...] We didn't tear them down and go home." Why did such a promising series with such talent behind it get the axe before it ever had a fair shot? 

Initial reports posited that the series went over budget due to an accounting error by the North Carolina government that lessened the series' tax rebate, but that rumor was convincingly debunked at Deadline and ScreenRant, among others. The real reason (or reasons) are a tad more complicated. A lack of definitive official statements on the matter means we must wade through tons of muck and mire to get at an answer, but we do know that DC Universe had reportedly been facing problems with subscribers even before getting hit by major layoffs in 2020 and eventual dismantling. 

A report by Bloody Disgusting's Brad Miska posited that the series had potentially been scapegoated for some of the service's myriad troubles. Various outlets also posited that creative differences fueled the series' cancelation, with insiders telling various outlets that the series didn't have support from WarnerMedia's new leadership and that some wanted it to be a procedural of sorts. What we do know is that many of the other properties that started as DC Universe originals, like the interconnected "Titans" and "Doom Patrol" series, had been pulled onto the Warner Bros.' flagship streaming service HBO Max, and it's highly possible that the standalone design of "Swamp Thing" didn't fit that model. We may know little about the why of the series' untimely demise, but we do know that it was cut short before its time with so, so much more to do.

Unfinished Business

One thing we know for sure about the cancelation of "Swamp Thing" is that it wasn't for a lack of ideas in the metaphorical tank. Series co-creator Mark Verheiden revealed in an interview that they had planned to introduce key "Swamp Thing" elements like the Parliament of Trees (which were designed and half-built) and add a lot more of the Blue Devil and Floronic Man even in the episodes cut from the first season's initial 13 episode slate. A source told Business Insider that the series' showrunners had a potential three-season arc firmly in mind, with additional ideas if the series performed well (like a potential "Justice League Dark" outing). Similarly, Crystal Reed, who played series protagonist Abby Arcane, had hoped the series could move through Alan Moore's entire revered "Swamp Thing" arc

Despite the hastened denouement, "Swamp Thing" managed to deliver a satisfying (albeit rushed) conclusion that nonetheless set up considerable material to revisit in future seasons. The series' development of The Rot, a newly created force in DC canon that's opposed to life and associated with decay and death, was a consistent nemesis throughout the series' existing season, and it's one that could certainly add more challenges to the Swamp Thing's future exploits. 

Perhaps the most shocking hanging thread, however, is what becomes of series' antagonist Jason Woodrue. In an after-credits scene in the show's first season, we see Woodrue (who regularly opposes the interests of the series' protagonists) turn into his superpowered alter-ego and Swamp Thing arch-nemesis, the Floronic Man – a man whose contact with "The Green," the force that fuels Swamp Thing, has become corrupted. You can't introduce the protagonists' most iconic adversary (with such a great monstrous visage) without following up on the story!

Will Swamp Thing Ever Return?

"Swamp Thing" season 1 has since been moved to The CW, but while it performed well there have been no inklings that a second season is on the horizon. Some fans hoped that the move would provoke a series continuation , but The CW boss Mark Pedowitz recently revealed that it's unlikely that "Swamp Thing" will return in a second season. Pedowitz revealed to Deadline that The CW was happy the series performed well for the network but preferred to focus on series like "Naomi" or "Wonder Girl." Pedowitz did comment that, "It'd be interesting to have Swamp Thing on 'Legends of Tomorrow,' that would be a fun way to do it, but I'm not sure that would happen." 

A shift to HBO Max (where other DC Universe series, like "Titans," "Doom Patrol," "Harley Quinn," and "Young Justice" had migrated) is similarly unlikely. Matt Webb Mitovich of TVLine's Inside Line feature recently threw cold water on HBO Max hopefuls, positing that "there are no plans at this time for 'Swamp Thing' to branch out to WarnerMedia's main streaming service." "Swamp Thing" currently remains streamable on The CW site with no presence among HBO Max's various DC offerings. Suffice to say, it looks like there are no current plans for the series' rebirth on either The CW or HBO Max.

...Which is an absolute shame. What WarnerMedia had on its hands was, in this writer's opinion, one of the best horror series to debut in recent memory. It broke new ground, maintained quality, and performed well at The CW despite getting hampered both in production and immediately following its premiere. At its core, the canceling of "Swamp Thing" can perhaps most simply be attributed to Warner Bros. Television not knowing how to fit such an innovative and bold new vision into its ever-changing content plans. The fortunate thing is that "what to do?" is an easier question than one might think. With the folks at Warner Bros. now finding success and embracing darker adaptations like "Joker" and "The Batman," perhaps there's now room to #SaveSwampThing and reclaim the legacy of the best DC Universe series ever released.