Review: Dark Matter

You know, I really love Firefly.  And who doesn’t? Show’s been dead more than a decade now (if you don’t count the big old movie adaptation) but it still represents the high-water mark for a certain kind of TV science fiction. And likely always will. Lightning in a bottle there: the right writers, the right producers, the right actors all coming together to deliver a genuinely extraordinary work of drama and vision.

What a pity it was the wrong network, eh? And a cordial “screw you” to Fox on that.

Anyway. Somebody over at Syfy (for fork’s sake, what is with that crappy spelling?) had some kind of brainwave, I guess. Thought that with centre stage for SF and spaceships at least temporarily vacant, they could edge into that highly desirable territory, capture themselves a shiny new audience.

Wrong. Wrong writers, wrong producers… even (though I hate to say it) wrong actors. This isn’t the new Firefly. I’m maybe four episodes in, and… sorry. It’s a tired, generic rehash of tired generic SF/action tropes. Serioiusly. Even my 13-year-old son has taken to howling at the screen every time they roll out yet another cliche.

The premise looks good: a mixed crew wakes up from cold sleep on a spaceship in imminent danger. They can’t remember who the hell they are, and they have to work together to survive and rediscover… well, whatever. I mean — that ought to be a sound sort of basis for a show, right?

Look closer. First of all, there’s the “amnesiac” trope. If it was the only overused element, I’d be okay with it. It’s there to set up the premise for the show. Fine. But who are these crewfolk? Let’s check them off as they tick the necessary boxes, shall we? I’d do it in order of crew-awakening, but I don’t care enough to remember, so I’ll just call it as I can.

First? There’s that Sensitive New Age Guy. He’s tough but caring with his heart on his sleeve and the crusader’s desire to save all the little people of the galaxy. He’s also got a thing for the captain, but it’s a bit unrequited and gosh, that makes him upset. Oh, he’s also devilishly handsome.

Then there’s the captain: the Tough, Arse-Kicking, No-Nonsense, Take-Charge unfeasibly attractive young woman. And… well, maybe she’ll develop some personal character traits if the series lasts long enough. Right now? That first sentence just summed her up. Or – no. It completely described her.

Next comes the Brash, Gun-Wielding, Self-Centred and Overconfident White Guy Mercenary.  Did I mention he loves guns? He loves guns. And he Doesn’t Hold With This Do-Gooder Nonsense, and he knows he should be in charge but That Woman is running things. That’s him. Competely.

After that? There’s the Big Black Guy Who Handles Ships and Machines, and Has Empathy and Insight. What a nice guy he is, yep.

Follow him with the Enigmatic Asian Guy Who Is A Terrifying Master of Kung Fu and Hand-to-Hand Weapons. He sure is inscrutable, that guy, but gee whiz, just look at him chop up the baddies! Oh, and he’s a bit amoral too but he’s got his Martial Code in there. Somewhere.

Let’s see. Who are we missing? Oh, I know! The Quirky Younger Woman Who Has Flashes of Genius and Does Unfeasible Things With Technology At Critical Moments. Oh, and she also has — get this, so edgy — brightly coloured hair!

Of course, any decent spaceship drama needs a robot, right? Enter the Attractive Female Android Who Is So Smart She Can Run The Whole Ship By Herself But Mostly Provides Comic Relief Through Hilarious Misunderstanding Of Human Communications. And I’m gonna stop right there.

Scripts? Generic. Dialogue? Generic, tuned to the generic characters. Action? Generic. Visuals? Generic. Situations? Generic as all hell. Like I said: I’m maybe four shows in, and I have pretty much zero impulse to put the next DVD into the machine.

There’s not much left to say except this: Firefly worked because Whedon and his people gave us fantastic characters to care about from pretty much the first minute of screen time. Original Star Trek worked because of the character interplay between the (then groundbreaking) roles of the command crew. Even Blake’s Seven, operating on a budget somewhere south of the worst years of Doctor Who — even that worked because the characters were more than just generic cutout figures.

I get it. The Dark Matter ensemble is a bunch of people without memories. We’re going to learn about their characters as we go. But you know what? Sorry, Syfy. You actually have to interest me from the first show, and without a single character who isn’t a laughable pastiche of the most generic SF TV of the last five decades, you’ve got no damn hope.



  1. Now do Killjoys.

    1. What is this “Killjoys”? Can I get it on DVD yet? If not… go kick a Telstra marketing officer until I get more bandwidth.

      1. Don’t race out to review it, I only mention them because they were another series that was produced at roughly the same time as Dark Matter, similar budgets etc. Charlie Jane Ander’s at .Io9 described it thusly

        “If wanting to watch fun, quippy characters get into scrapes and survive by the skin of their teeth, on spaceships and alien planets, is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Killjoys has just the right mix of guns, high-tech knives, assassins, cage fights, missions to hostile planets, dark secrets, tiny robot weapons and general space headbutting thrills to be the perfect treat for Friday nights..”:

        the one I am really hanging out to see is the TV series adaptation of S.A.Cory’s The expanse series. Saw the first episode and keen to see more.

  2. Oh good. You just articulated why I haven’t bothered to watch more than the first couple of eps. Ta for that! *crosses off future viewing list*

    1. I don’t really like being so negative… but there was just no way for me to get excited about this show.

  3. bangarrr · · Reply

    Point taken, but it is enjoyable nonsense until something better comes along. Have you checked out Jessica Jones?

    1. Sigh. Bandwidth, dude. Won’t be coming to this household save by means of piracy until it’s on DVD. Not my fault: blame Uncle Malcolm and his assrapage of the NBN.

      I have heard great things about JJ. I’m guessing piracy may well occur. But as usual, we’ll pick up the DVD when it comes out. Or if, I should say. Haven’t seen Netflix putting its product onto DVD at all, so far. And why would they?

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