Image: Amazon Studios

‘Them’: “unsettling and unnecessary”

The best way to describe Amazon Prime’s new series Them: unsettling and unnecessary. While the series intends to be an entertaining horror, it just ends up being more horrifying to watch. For those who like to use TV as a form of escape, Them is not the show for you.

Them follows the Emorys, a black American family who migrated from North Carolina to Los Angeles in search of a better life in the post-Jim Crow era. The ten-episode series follows ten days in the Emorys’ life after moving to Compton, Los Angeles. From the start, it becomes very clear that the Emorys will have a turbulent experience to say the least. The show focuses on their white neighbours, who continually go out of their way to drive the Emorys out of the neighbourhood. With each episode, the level of torture becomes more intense. By the time we get halfway through the series, it becomes too much to watch, which raises the question: what is the reason for showing us this?

Throughout watching the show I had one question going through my head: ‘who is the intended audience for this?’

The series begins with a short description of the Great Migration, which suggests that the show is meant to depict the experiences of the Great Migration. However, it becomes glaringly obvious that it only focuses on the terror that families faced. We see each member of the family, from the young children to the parents, rapidly descend into madness, with each developing their own apparitions that they start to see everywhere. Alongside this is the continuous racial gaslighting, where the Emorys are made to feel as though they are imagining the horrors that are happening to them. While this is meant to imitate real life, it’s more infuriating to watch than informative.

Throughout watching the show I had one question going through my head: ‘who is the intended audience for this?’. Them relies heavily on showcasing black pain and is essentially a form of trauma porn, a sub-genre that is being increasingly criticised for its exploitation and dramatization of real-life experiences. This show cannot even be deemed educational – while the intentions of the creators may have been to give greater insight to the black experience (in which pain plays a part), Them arguably fails to do this. A black audience would probably be more than aware of the negative experiences that they go through, so why would they need to see it sensationalised for ten episodes?

Honestly, I found this show quite disturbing

There has already been comparison between Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Amazon Prime’s Them, with discussion focusing on what made the former a success and the latter, quite frankly, a flop. Arguably, what made Get Out a success was the subtle message and meaning that the overall work conveys, telling the story of white liberalism and its hidden dangers. It has layers and an actual plot to analyse, as well as a message. The lack of meaning in Them is really what holds it back. Essentially, we are just watching a black family be terrorised for one season. In which case, why was this a show that needed to be made? With Them set in the 1950s, there is also the risk of viewers coming away from the series thinking that racism no longer exists, feeling the events that happen in the show don’t happen today.

Honestly, I found this show quite disturbing. With the episodes ranging from 30 minutes to an hour long, it was entirely too long to consume so much trauma within a show that is not entertaining. Despite the actors being extremely talented and giving truly captivating performances, the overall plot just does not lead to anything. While it succeeds in being a creepy horror series (which is very apparent within the first few episodes), we just watch the Emorys experience so much terror with nothing really coming of it at the end. It’s unclear if this was intentional from the creators, as a way of showing the insidious nature of racism and how there is usually no resolution in real life. However, for a TV series, it just ends up being disappointing, and doesn’t come close to justifying why we endured watching all of that horror and trauma.

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