The Texas connections run deep in Swarm.
The satirical, psychological thriller TV series, which premiered at South by Southwest in March, revolves around Dre (played by Dominique Fishback), a young woman whose obsession with Ni-Jah, a pop star who was heavily inspired by Beyoncé, leads her down a grisly path. Just like the iconic singer, Swarm’s executive producer Janine Nabers was born and raised in Houston.
Nabers co-created Swarm alongside Donald Glover, with whom she previously collaborated on the third season of acclaimed FX series Atlanta. As well as being a renowned playwright, Nabers has also built an impressive TV portfolio, including Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, UnREAL, Away, and Watchmen.
With Swarm, Nabers was always intent on doing for Houston what Glover did for Atlanta. That involved bringing the Black perspective to the show’s location. Even though the pilot was shot in Los Angeles, and the rest of Swarm was filmed in and around Atlanta, Nabers wanted to make sure that the city of Houston was a central character, especially when it comes to the formation of Dre.
“What’s so great about Atlanta is that everyone who’s Black, especially from the South, already knew that Atlanta was a little weird,” says Nabers, adding that Houston has a similar “weird” energy, a place with a mix of the South and the urban. “There was an understanding that, having already been on Atlanta and written with Donald, we would bring that energy to Swarm and give it a Houstonian vibe.”
Here, she talks about that “Houstonian vibe,” how an Olympic track and field legend sparked her interest in writing, and her favorite spots to visit in Houston.
TH: Tell us more about your connection to Houston.
JN: I grew up in Katy, and then I moved to Alief. That’s where I was until I was basically 17 years old. My parents are still there in Houston. I love Houston. I think it’s clearly one of the most diverse cities in America, if not the most diverse city in America. I love Black people from Houston. I just love the Black perspective of Houston. I’m really proud to be from there.
TH: What sparked your interest in writing?
JN: I started off as a track runner. I was really into Jackie Joyner-Kersee. I wrote a letter to her one summer. At some point, maybe six months later, I got a call from her. She had found my information; she found my number. She basically was like, “I know you want to be a track runner. I think that’s great. But if that doesn’t work out for you, you should consider being a writer. I get letters from people all the time. I’ve never responded to one of them until today.” That was the first moment where I was like, “Huh, this woman is saying I can write OK.” Then when I got hurt as a runner, I pivoted to theater. That began my process in the arts, which then led to me writing TV.
TH: Any similarities between writing and athletics?
JN: I think of writing as a marathon. It’s really not for the faint of heart. It’s really grueling. It’s a miracle to get your show done. So, yeah, I liken it to athletics a lot actually. I mentor people, and I tell them that writing is definitely a sport. You have to drink your water, prepare, stretch, and work out to do it well.
TH: Why was it so important to set Swarm in Houston?
JN: It was always Houston. The idea was to really solidify Houston as a character in this story. It’s the base for who this woman is. It’s the foundation of where she comes from. It’s where the artist that she’s obsessed with also comes from. It was just always going to be that. The pilot was shot in Los Angeles. There’s obviously a different energy in LA than Houston, but there’s a lot of similarities. Everything is spread out, it’s flat. I do think there’s a slightly slower energy and pace in Houston. In Swarm, we wanted to mash that up with this Southern aesthetic and give it a metropolitan vibe.
TH: You started off in theater. How has that influenced your work on television?
JN: I think that TV is having a golden era. A lot of playwrights have done a lot of writing for TV—look at Phoebe Waller-Bridge with Fleabag. I think you get a more surrealistic look at everyday life. With a play, you have to do that sometimes. I think that my playwriting kind of seeped into the storytelling, especially with Swarm. I definitely think it influenced the story.
TH: What are your favorite places to take people in Houston?
JN: I’ve always loved Katz’s. It’s a 24-hour place. I would go there all the time when I was in high school. For me, it’s really the places that are open 24 hours, the stomping ground places with all of my friends. I took my husband there recently. I try to take my friends there when I go back. There’s a different House of Pies in Los Angeles, which I feel is a betrayal. I refuse to go and eat there. I only eat at the one in Houston. Those are my two favorite places.
TH: What do you want audiences to experience with Swarm?
JN: I just hope they watch it. I hope they talk about it. I hope it inspires people to make weirder stuff on TV.
Swarm is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.