For the past 2-3 years, SyFy has been working hard to reestablish its place as the premiere destination for science fiction on TV.
Some efforts have produced above average results (Defiance, Dominion, 12 Monkeys). Others have outright flopped (Ascension, Helix). But at a time where science fiction and all things geeky are now mainstream, SyFy has yet to produce a buzz-worthy hit show since Battlestar Galactica. Something about their programming still feels too safe, too similar, too bland.
Now SyFy has debuted two new space operas on its Friday night lineup, Dark Matter and Killjoys. Do they have the potential to be breakout hits, or do they miss the mark altogether?
Up front, the concept for Dark Matter is quite intriguing. Six strangers wake up from stasis on a derelict spaceship with no memories of their identities. As they struggle to find out who they once were, the crew must survive not only the darker threats in the galaxy, but also each other.
In the pilot each character labels themselves by the number which they awoke from stasis. One (Marc Bendavid) is kind of a beta male but clearly is the conscience of the group whenever a decision veers too far into murky territory. Two (Melissa O’Neil) is a femme fatale type who becomes this group’s de facto leader. Three (Anthony Lemke) is a swaggering rogue who only cares about three things in life; his guns, his money and himself. Three’s latter love putting him at odds with the crew more often than not. Four (Alex Mallari Jr.) is a man of few words, letting his swords and hand-to-hand kick-assery speak for him. Five (Jodelle Ferland) is the youngest of the group and their resident tech/hacker guru. Six (Roger Cross) is the other gun-toting alpha male of the group, but actually has a conscience and works well with the team unlike Three.
Rounding out the crew is The Android (Zoie Palmer) who interfaces with the crew by way of humorously deadpanned quips.
Right off the bat, I love how diverse this show is. Its nice to finally see a futuristic space opera outside of Star Trek really represent that the future is more than one color. Too many sci-fi shows do not accurately represent how diversified the human race will become.
Even better, positioning Two as group the leader was a smart move that most sci-fi shows would never risk. Over the past few episodes, Two continues to prove why she should stay in charge of this ragtag grouping with a mix of compassion and a tolerance for approximately zero bullshit. Plus, the actress is an engaging presence onscreen.
Another great aspect are the budding relationships and pairings between the main cast. Two and Six have established great bonds with Five, acting almost as big siblings to the ship’s one teenage character. There’s also the initial mystery of who these characters are, how they got on this ship and who wiped their memories. The first question gets partially answered by the end of the first episode. These characters learn their names and find out via rap sheets that they are the baddest of the bad; thieves, bounty hunters, mercenaries and murderers, most being multi-hyphenates.
Even weirder, only five of the six human passengers discovered their IDs. Five still has no clue her name or anything about her past…other than her nightmares that are apparently memories of her crew mates. But of which crew mates?
Three episodes in, Dark Matter has my attention. I’m curious to learn more about the universe that these characters exist in, along with what these characters’ backstories before they got mind-wiped. For now, I’m hoping the good work continues.
The other new show on SyFy’s Friday night block is Killjoys, focusing on a group of fun-loving, hard-living bounty hunters chasing down deadly criminals in a planetary system on the brink of civil war.
The team, lead by the mysterious Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), includes brothers John Jaqobis (Aaron Ashmore) and D’avin Jaqobis (Luke MacFarlane). They work for a company called the RAC where the motto is ‘The Warrant Is All,’ meaning they take no sides in a conflict and show no bias to the criminals they are assigned to capture. But of course, how much fun would the show be if sides weren’t taken?
Dutch and John have a great, platonic working relationship that gets strained when the latter risks both their reps to rescue older brother D’avin, who has a bounty on his head. Also an intriguing plot is Dutch herself. Her past is shrouded in mystery. But as more puzzle pieces appear during the first two episodes, it becomes clear that her past is messy, violent and deadly.
Thoughts, so far? Killjoys is decent at best, dangerously flirting with ‘meh’ at worst. At the moment the show is taking a ‘bounty job of the week’ approach while padding the b-plots with character story arcs of D’avin joining the group and the ‘Who Is Dutch’ mystery.
Its too early to voice a definite opinion of this show’s longevity. Many freshmen shows don’t fully find their footing until deep into the first season (ie Agents of SHIELD). But I will give my thoughts on what worked and didn’t work for me.
The world building needs serious work. A multi-planetary conglomerate should have a more creative name than ‘The Company.’ That’s just lazy. Along with that, we keep hearing that a system-wide war is on the horizon. maybe even seen glimpses of it. But other than that…nothing. I know its only been two episodes in, but show me more.
Also, the Quad, which is the name of the planetary system the show takes place in. What is its history? Who are its inhabitants? How did things get so bad, leading to this looming war?
And on a smaller note, I really dislike the show’s musical score. Its sounds so derivative and generic for a ‘gritty’ space opera.
I know I sound really harsh, but maybe because I had higher hopes for this show than Dark Matter. Hopefully the show will start improving in the next few episodes.
One last thing. Sorry for my radio-silence these past two months. I’ve FINALLY dived into serious edits for the second Star Brigade novel. So far so good, but there’s a lot of work to before its ready. Can’t wait to start sharing some sneak peeks with you all.
Until next time!