The CW Network’s new series, “Tom Swift,” is not the same story of a young genius inventor that your parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents read. That quickly becomes very apparent when the TV adaptation of the books debuts at 9 p.m. May 31.
The original books focused chiefly on Swift saving the day with some new gadget when they were written more than a century ago. Today’s Tom Swift is a smart, well-dressed, wealthy young gay black man with an endless supply of designer sneakers who lives life fast and hard as played by Tian Richards.
Richards recognized immediately when he read one of the original books that his Swift was light years away from the one in the printed pages.
“It is very outdated material, but I just wanted to read it just to experience what it was like growing up. I did read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, but had never really come across Tom Swift,” Richards says. “Wat I can say is that a cool aspect about the books is how much tech came from it. Like if you think about the Taser, is the Thomas A Swift electric rifle.
“We are very different though. Our show is definitely driven by the personal stories of today and of the modern world. But you will see so many references and new iterations of stuff that was in the book. Little Easter eggs.”
The TV adaptation starts with Swift having the world in the palm of his hand. But that world gets shaken after the disappearance of his father. This pushes Swift into an adventure full of mysterious conspiracies and unexplained phenomena.
Swift finds himself fighting to stay one step ahead of an Illuminati-scale cabal determined on stopping him. He must turn to a group of close friends to help including: his best friend Zenzi (Ashleigh Murray); his bodyguard Isaac (Marquise Vilsón); and his AI, Barclay (voiced by LeVar Burton).
This is not the first time Richards has played the character. He took on the role the first time in the second season of the CW Network series “Nancy Drew.” Richards sees his character as being more mature than when he was helping Drew and her crew deal with a supernatural crisis.
“Tom has definitely grown up a little more. We look a little different, I like to say. We’re giving a little more grown-man energy, definitely this time around,” Richards says. “And it was so beautiful this time, you get to see Tom in his element. You get to see him with his family, with his friends. You get to see him in his hometown.
“So, you really do open up the fullness of who this man was. We got like a prequel, like an appetizer of Tom in ‘Nancy Drew.’ But now you get a full course.”
The design of “Tom Swift” has given Richards a lot of challenges. The young actor comes to the role not only with originating the character in “Nancy Drew” but a list of other acting credits that include “Being Mary Jane,” “The Quad” and “The Neighborhood.”
A debut in “Nancy Drew” did put Swift in a supernatural world. Both Richards and executive producer Cameron Johnson stress that their series will focus on the tech world and how Swift deals with that.
Johnson explains that everything Swift invents must come from something that seems frivolous but ends up being very crucial. Her example is a camera made of steam that might originally be used for very personal selfies but the technology ends up being used in a more serious manner.
She adds, “It’s a show about people and family relationships and those sorts of dramas. But it’s, what can we invent and how can we invent it and how can we do that in a way that feels cool and approachable and accepted and accessible.”
While the science remains the same, the TV version of Tom Swift is very different from the book. The changes were made – according to executive producer Melinda Hsu Taylor – to make the TV show be more inclusive.
“The books from back in the day are from a different era. They don’t hold up, really. However, what we loved about the core concept of optimism and friendship and kind of relentless positivity, that we brought into the show,” Taylor says. “And then we populated with a black, gay billionaire and all his found family and friends.
“We really wanted to make it a show where, no matter what kind of intersectional identity you have, you have somebody to relate to, somebody to cheer for, somebody to hope for and, and feel like, ‘That’s me. I’m the one who’s in love. I’m the one who’s being desired and pursued.’”