Retro Review: The Swamp Thing Television Series

For nearly a decade, we've come to a point in cinema where we are inundated with comic book adapted/inspired movies and television shows. Daily, we are updated with trailers, images, news or rumors regarding the dozens of movies and shows that are currently airing or set to be released over the next several summers. But what about their low-budgeted and poorly translated predecessors? The movies and shows that have been forgotten or disregarded? 

This week in review: Swamp Thing – The Series

Before I dive into thick of this review, I should note that Alan Moore and Rick Veitch's Swamp Thing is my favorite series written, along with my favorite single issue, ever, being Swamp Thing #40. So, years ago when I was perusing through the racks at the local CD/DVD store I came across copies of the two Swamp Thing movies and the complete television series. I quickly recalled my friends mentioning they weren't that good. The voice of my inner-nerd refused to listen to their woeful words and I purchased the set without further question. When I returned home and popped in the first film, I didn't expect much from it, nor did I anticipate it to follow my favored source material. And, with the first two films, I got a lot of campy dialogue and aesthetic with several heavy laughs. But this review isn't about the two films, it's about the three seasons of the live-action series that aired from 1990 to 1993 on the USA network.  And here is why the show is worth a watch:




5) The relationship to source material

As I noted earlier, I expected nothing to correlate from the Moore/Veitch comics to the television show – or, at the very least, the comic in general. The basics in the show were set: Alec Holland transformed into Swamp Thing, Dr. Anton Arcane is a villain and nemesis to Swamp Thing and other characters that are appropriated by name – Abigail and Dr. Jason Woodrue. While there is little connection to the actual source material, the television series takes some of the characteristics and craziness of the comic and places it into the show. With Dr. Arcane remaining as the villain to Swamp Thing, this show places him as a smarmy scientist that sets out to retrieve the secret of Swamp Thing's botanical formula with malicious intent. Other characters that were appropriated for the television show are Abigail, who in the comic is Swamp Thing's wife and niece to Dr. Arcane but instead is a synthetic runaway teen that was created by Dr. Jason Woodrue (the Floronic Man) that, in the show, is reduced to being a boring experimental scientist and geneticist. While the show has it's nods, it introduces and centers around a divorced mother, Tressa Kipp, her son Jim (for 12 episodes – see below) and later her step-son Will – in which they find themselves in countless perils at the hands of Dr. Arcane, or other villains, that require Swamp Thing or personal perseverance for resolution. The greatest relationship to the source material was the bad 80's/90's hair…


4) The make-up

From the time of Wes Craven's first Swamp Thing film, things looked dreary in regards to the costuming of Swamp Thing. He resembled very little of the bog-dwelling hero where he simply looked like a man in a thick, green latex suit. Later, in Return of the Swamp Thing, they upped the ante and gave Swamp Thing the jutted root nose (which is iconic in the comics), more detailed roots, leaves and moss that were interwoven through the costume. This model of Swamp Thing was re-drafted and perfected for the 1990 premier of the television show. Swamp Thing aside, the show included a variety of one-shot characters that required detailed make-up work ranging from carnival freaks, mutant children to Arcane's botched experimental goons. From aquatic-pig kids to animal crossbred cyborgs, the show provided the audience with amusing and creative make-up effects that were ahead of its time (for the time) and still hold-up pretty well today. 


3) Dick Durock  – The Swamp Thing

The man under the mask (err… suit)! Dick Durock was the actor that embodied Swamp Thing in both films and all 72 episodes of the show. This man was put through hell and back while playing the role and did it with complete dignity and valor. Over the decade of playing the character he mastered the process of prosthetics in a suit that originally took four hours of application and was later reduced to 45 minutes by the time of the show due to familiarity and repetition. Working twelve hour days, six days a week while also having to learn ten pages of script a day in an 80 pound suit, Durock was the true embodiment of the Swamp Thing. 



2) One part science, one part horror and one part after school special

While the show was reportedly aimed for younger audiences it initially followed Jim, an eleven year old boy, that recently moved to Houma, Louisianana. But, after the first twelve episodes the producers decided they wanted the show to have darker themes and removed Jim (see below) and replaced him with Will, his older and edgier step-brother that's a former juvenile delinquent. Once the show took on a darker tone the show rooted itself in a series of episodes that were intended to be scary, suspenseful or based on dense (fictional) science. Granted the show had a 10:30pm time slot, they still had several episodes of "after school special" messages which included drug addiction (to psychedelic swamp plants), theft when Will's former gang pals arrive in town to try and persuade him to help with a robbery and abusive family situations. While the messages attempted to remain positive, the fantastical and science elements include voodoo priests, zombies, robots, a delusional teen believing he is a vampire and much more giving this show a series of amazing gems that are worth watching!


Reminiscent of David Lynch & Twin Peaks

The early 90's – a time when everything got a little weird. David Lynch, the master of mystery, suspense and mayhem, created the show Twin Peaks which aired on ABC starting several months before Swamp Thing. With the success of this bizarre supernatural psychological thriller, Swamp Thing too began to go off the deep end. Similar to Lynch's notorious use of midgets, Swamp Thing had several characters and cameos with dwarf actors, often in bizarre situations or in make-up. One example of Lynch-influence can be seen with the show's approach to the removal of the young character Jim as his final episode had Dr. Arcane sell him into a South American child slavery ring or when Swamp Thing terrorizes a heavy-metal musician with a series of (weird and scary) mind games after his lyrics drive two teens to suicide. While there are more examples, coming across a weird and wild episode is very amusing and helps to keep the show interesting and watchable. Also, a random fact is that actor Ray Wise, plays Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks, also played Dr. Alec Holland in the first Swamp Thing film. 

All in all, this show has held-up since its debut twenty years ago. While every episode might not be the best, this show creates more smiles than frowns and is worth a watch!


Austin thinks even Alan Moore might chuckle at this show. He also has other thoughts that you can read and follow here


  1. oh man i haven’t thought about that show in years. I’m reading Moore’s Swamp Thing right now. Just finished the first volume. It was amazing.

  2. Let’s not forget the cartoon which had a theme song that was based on the Troggs’ Wild Thing. I think that was basically an excuse to sell toys, and when I found and tried to watch it, I’m not sure I made it past the first episode.

    I do remember when Swamp Thing was on TV, but I don’t think it was on channel/time slot where I could regularly watch it. When I did catch it, I remember thinking it was a little bit hokey at the time. It’s funny to think that it may seem less dated then other shows of that time period.

  3. Good article.  I liked the show, but it seemed slow sometimes.  Check out the Twin Peaks tribute of Psych this last season if you haven’t.  Ray Wise has a recurring role on that show as well. 

  4. from what i remember the show was on USA Network. or maybe even late night Saturdays after Saturday night live on NBC. But pretty sure it was initially just USA.

  5. I don’t actually remember much about the show but I do know that I used to watch the hell out of it. I’m glad it holds up and I might think about revisiting it someday.

  6. episodes are available on for free. i watched the first one and haven’t been able to bring myself to watch anymore.

  7. Oh man.  Good memories.  I ate this show up every Saturday night on USA. I also remember the weekend long marathons they had.  It was just creepy, campy, scary, and wholesome enough to keep me engaged week after week.  
    Once the show found it’s footing in the second season and veered away from the Acrane Mutant of the Week, I found the characters to become more engaging, and I loved the inventive ways they used Swampy’s powers.

    And to me, I just loved the opening, and Dick’s filtered voice.  Those green eyes popping open.

    Yeah, gonna have to find that series on DVD.