‘Them’ Creator Says He’s ‘Heartened’ by Fans’ Positive Response to Season 2 After ‘Ferocious’ Reaction to Season 1

Little Marvin tells TheWrap about tackling racism through horror and the future of the “Them” universe

Little Marvin, "Them: The Scare" (Getty Images, Prime Video)
Little Marvin, "Them: The Scare" (Getty Images, Prime Video)

“Them: The Scare” creator and showrunner Little Marvin said he’s “deeply heartened” by fans’ positive response to Season 2 of the Prime Video horror anthology series, especially following the “volcanic” reactions to its controversial first season.

“I felt all of the feelings, if I’m being honest. It was the first thing I’d ever made,” Little Marvin told TheWrap. “I’d never never put a baby out there and had anyone respond to it, so the response was ferocious, and it probably felt a lot at the time like being hit by 1,000 trucks at once. So I felt all the feelings.”

What were once reviews and opinions riddled with criticisms that Little Marvin’s first season of “Them” was insensitive, or on the worse end, a Black trauma porn show, have ended with fans praising the second installment of the horror series, “Them: The Scare,” for its ghoulish characters, edge-of-your-seat plot twists and that hellishly terrifying standout performance from Luke James.

“I felt immense privilege that I was in a position to actually tell stories, because it had been my dream my entire life. So to actually put something out into the world regardless of the way people respond to it has all been what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid,” he continued. “So there was that. So there was immense gratitude for the experience, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also — married to that — some disappointment.”

The second chapter of Little Marvin’s “Them” takes viewers back to Los Angeles, jumping ahead 38 years after the 1952-based “Them: The Covenant” (the first season). “Them: The Scare” introduces new characters: Detective Dawn Dawn Reeve (Deborah Ayorinde), who’s been assigned to track down the killer of a foster home mother; Athena, Dawn’s secretive mother; Kelvin “Kel” Reeve (Joshua J. Williams), Dawn’s teenage son; crooked Detective Ronald McKinney (Jeremy Bobb), and aspiring actor Edmund Gaines (James).

Like in Season 1, the shows uses horror to explore the United States’ history with racism and how it impacts Black people in America. Focusing in on police brutality, Season 2 also spotlights the effects of abandonment, rejection, abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, Black mental health and more.

Luke James as Edmund in "Them: The Scare" (Prime Video)
Luke James as Edmund in “Them: The Scare” (Prime Video)

While Little Marvin said audiences’ initial response to the show didn’t impact how he tackled Season 2, he shared that finds joy in people’s newfound thoughts about “Them.”

“I can’t divorce some of the volcanic response from the time [‘Them’ first] came out. I will say I’ve been deeply heartened by how the tide has turned,” Little Marvin said. “People who didn’t, and they’ve written me, because people write you. They tell you what they think, and I’m here for it. Good or bad … I’ve been very heartened by how many people were not ready for it, didn’t want it when it came out and have since come back to it and are enjoying it. So that’s been very heartening.”

In a conversation with TheWrap, Little Marvin discussed taking on racism through the lens of horror, Luke James’s challenging first day on set, the future of the “Them” universe, that twisted season finale and its connection to Season 1, plus more.

Please note some spoilers from “Them: The Scare” are discussed.

Pam Grier as Athena in "Them: The Scare" (Prime Video)
Pam Grier as Athena in “Them: The Scare” (Prime Video)

Talk to me a little about your background.

I was raised in Northern California, and I went to San Mateo High School in Foster City, California. I spent a lot of time reading terrifying things, which I think served me well. I moved to L.A. for UCLA, which is where I went to school. From that point on, I was sort of L.A., but it’s always definitely been in my bones.

What were some of the things you were reading? Where did your passion for horror come from?

I was literally just having this conversation with my mom. She used to buy me – God bless – all of Stephen King’s books, in hardback, I might add, which was lovely. I was the nerd who used to stay up all night with a flashlight, reading them cover to cover. Stephen King was everything to me as a kid, and I would find myself immersed in these stories. I always loved that they were terrifying, but they also were very human. They kind of centered the outside a lot of the time, which was something I could always kind of relate to as a kid, and so Stephen King was my jam growing up. I would say the first literary touchstone for me. I guess you could say that’s where it began. 

What was your favorite Stephen King book?

Oh my God, that’s like asking a parent who their favorite kid is, Lord. That’s tough. I would say, obviously, “The Shining” has a very, indelible place in my mind. But there’s also “Misery.” “Misery” ripped me to shreds when I was young. I couldn’t possibly name one. Even “Carrie” killed me, I mean, there were too many.”

Your unique style of horror has really brought a fresh energy to the genre, including the way you center Black people in it. It gets pretty dark.

Thank you for saying that. It means a lot because as a person who has always loved this genre, it’s this weird combination of loving it and then feeling underserved by it, if I’m being honest. Because so many of those stories I’m referencing and so many of those things I loved growing up, we weren’t necessarily at the center of any of those stories. So I had to kind of imagine myself into many words where I didn’t exist. What has been such a lovely cathartic experience has been changing that in my own small way with things. I really make a concerted effort to reframe some of those genres and allow us the nuance and the complexity and the humanity that I feel we deserve in everything. 

Coming off of Season 1, did you already have an idea of how you wanted Season 2 to go? Is the entire “Them” universe already mapped out?

I would say I do now. I had an idea of where I would like to explore next. I had a world, and I knew very early on that I wanted to hop forward to the ’90s. I knew Los Angeles, and then I’d say there were some high-level architectural story points that I knew going into the writers room that I’m like, “Ah, this feels right.” Then it’s a beautiful exploration, and obviously getting into the room with the writers and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. But yeah, I did go into the second season knowing a few things about what I wanted to do, for sure. 

At the end of Season 2, you connect Dawn and Edmund’s storylines to the Emory family in Season 1. Was that always the plan?

I’d say from the minute the idea for the second season presented itself to me, I knew. And then I knew much more. It was a wonderful discovery that I was excited to try and I’m really thrilled that Amazon and Sony let us.

Deborah Ayorinde as Detective Dawn Reeve in "Them: The Scare" Season 2 (Prime Video)
Deborah Ayorinde as Detective Dawn Reeve in “Them: The Scare” Season 2 (Prime Video)

You’ve switched up your cast a bit, but you’ve kept Deborah Ayorinde. How was it working with her again, and what made you bring her back?

Honestly, I’d keep Deborah forever if only she didn’t have to do other things. It’s funny because I tried to walk away, I tried to quit her. I was writing the role and I’m like, “Okay, you’ve got to imagine somebody else. You’ve got to put Deb out of your head. It’s got to be someone else.” And then I just kept coming back to her. I kept imagining her as Dawn. I could not get her face out of my head. She was the rock of that first season. I thought her performance was revelatory, and I think she’s the bee’s knees. I just love her in every way and as an artist I think she’s exceptional. So it was kind of too easy. She was the only person I saw and then it was just a real gift that she was able to do it.

Everyone is raving about Luke James’ performance in the show. Many people knew Luke to be multi-talented, but “Them: The Scare” really showed us the depth of his range. Talk to me about his participation in the show, and how you all crafted what we saw on screen from him.   

Where to begin … to say it was miraculous would be an understatement. It wasn’t even the 25th hour, it was more like the 14th hour when he came in, because we were into production and still hadn’t cast the role. I give props to Junie Lowry-Johnson and Libby Goldstein, our casting directors, who I adore, who are intrepid and who are ferociously committed to finding the perfect person.

We met many, many actors, they were wonderful, but there was a very specific set of traits that I wanted our Edmund to have. He had to be terrifying, of course, but he also had to break your heart. And if he didn’t engender empathy, a measure of compassion, be able to telegraph rage and also be darkly humorous in parts – there was a cocktail of things he had to do. And then the right person walks through the door and suddenly it’s even better than you could have imagined. I distinctly remember Luke coming out of a trailer on Day One with the high top fade and the Members Only jacket, and it was like he’d sprung fully formed from my imagination. Like, that was the Edmund that I’d imagined. And then I was just praying, “I hope it’s as good on set.” He gets to set, and from the minute we called action, it was him.

Luke James in "Them: The Scare" (Prime Video)
Luke James in “Them: The Scare” (Prime Video)

He had a tremendously difficult first day. I’ll never forget, it was a scene of sort of self-harm, and it was a gauntlet. I turned to the first AD and I was like, ‘There’s surely something easier that his poor guy can do for the first day.” And she’s like, “You wrote it, there’s not.” I just gritted my teeth. And let me tell you, he just ferociously and fearlessly jumped in. You could feel every shoulder in the sound stage just relax. We knew – because he’s half the story. It’s kind of a two-hander in the sense that Dawn owns half the story, and he owns the other half. And I knew what I was getting with Dawn, and he was the wild card. From the first jump, it was him and only him. It was really miraculous. People don’t know, I mean, you know the performance, but I think what people don’t know is he’s also just a lovely, centered human being. In the wrong hands that could have been a real – there’s such turmoil in the role, you never know what the actor is going to be like. When I tell you that he’s nimble, agile and collaborative, and all the things you hope an actor is, that was him. It was truly a joy. 

Going back to the first season, some people felt the last season was a tough watch, and many referred to it as Black trauma porn. You’ve previously stood behind your creative choices with it, but did any of the audience’s response to Season 1 impact how you went about this season?

Not at all. And I still 1,000% stand behind every frame of that first season. If you’re watching it, you can rest assured that I meant it. At the time it came out – this is not to make excuses – if people didn’t f–k with it, they didn’t want to f–k with it, but I will say, like three years ago was a very different world. We were in the height of COVID, George Floyd had been murdered, there was global racial societal unrest on a massive destabilizing scale. All we wanted to do at that time was escape our homes and escape history. Then along came a show about a Black family that escape their home or their history. So I can’t divorce some of the volcanic response from the time it came out.I was say I’ve been deeply heartened by how the tide has turned. People who didn’t, and they’ve written, because people write you, they tell you what they think, and I’m here for it. Good or bad. They tell you exactly what they think. I’ve been very heartened by how many people were not ready for it, didn’t want it when it came out and have since come back to it and are enjoying it. So that’s been very heartening. 

How did the negative response make you feel at the time? Do you feel Black creatives have room to explore racism and trauma in this way?

I felt all of the feelings, if I’m being honest. It was the first thing I’d ever made, so you can imagine – I’d never never put a baby out there and had anyone respond to it. So the response was ferocious, and it probably felt a lot at the time like being hit by 1,000 trucks at once. So I felt all the feelings. I felt immense privilege that I was in a position to actually tell stories, because it had been my dream my entire life. So to actually put something out into the world regardless of the way people respond to it has all been what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. So there was that. So there was immense gratitude for the experience, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also, married to that, some disappointment. You take your licks, you hope that people are understanding or at least open to the layers of things you put into it. Trauma porn was certainly never, not only the intention. It’s not for me to say how people respond. A thing is a thing. I can only speak for the intention of what the thing was, and that certainly was not the intent. So I felt all of the things. 

In response to that second part, no. I know why it was happening, obviously, but here’s one thing I hope that we can do. I hope that we can allow us to not be a monolith and allow us to see the myriad lenses through which our stories can be told. There was very much a through line like, “Well, Jordan Peele does this, and this show’s not doing that, so therefore this show is wrong.” And that’s fine, if that’s what you think, but I also think it’s kind of unfair, because I have a completely different set of experiences and a completely different lens, totally different references and I’m thinking about the world in a completely different way. So I think to say that for the next generation of folks, like, I don’t want anyone comparing the next Black horror show to “Them.” I don’t want it because that’s deeply, deeply unfair to that artist who has an entire life that came to the table.

That’s my long way of saying we’re not a monolith. And I also don’t think the same thing happens to white creators. If I’m being honest. I think if Ari Aster made something, no one would say, “Hey, what does Ti West think about it?” So I hope that our singularity can also be seen. 

I don’t know how to divorce great horror from some level of trauma. “The Shining” is about trauma. “The Shining” is a domestic, traumatic story. It’s about a father who was an alcoholic who is dealing with rage issues and then going up to a haunted mansion. It’s really about a family in crisis, and that’s why it works. That’s why it stands the test of time. So why is that allowed. Why can’t we be allowed the same breadth of humanity to tell these stories?

What’s next for Little Marvin? Outside of “Them,” what more would you like to create?

Many things. I have some more shows that I’m going to be putting out into the world, fingers crossed. And I was able to direct this season, which was a phenomenal experience and a dream and something I’ve wanted to do my whole life. So certainly more of that, and looking forward to features as well as television, so yeah I’m excited about all to come. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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