TV Review: ‘Dark Matter’

Dark Matter Review From Dark Horse

Adapted from Dark Horse Comics, “Dark Matter” uses a tantalizing mystery to achieve liftoff, then does a pretty nifty job of establishing its characters to bring the audience along for the ride. Essentially the Calvin Klein ad version of “Lost in Space,” the Syfy series opens with a half-dozen demographically desirable people awakening aboard a spaceship, possessing no clue who they are, but some sets of very particular skills. The big reveal at the close of the premiere is a tad predictable and probably comes too soon, but the fast-paced hour still bodes well for the series to come.

The six – well, what are they exactly? Castaways? Survivors? – all come out of their slumber with a kind of amnesia, which makes them wonder why they’re good at things like, say, wielding a sword or piloting a ship. Lacking identities, they adopt numbers from One to Six (based on the order in which they awoke), before uncovering data that help them start unraveling at least some details surrounding what brought them to this point.

Even playing stock characters, the cast of this Canadian production is solid and attractive, including Broadway actress Melissa O’Neil – who despite being labeled Two quickly emerges as the first among equals – and Roger Cross from “24” and more recently “The Strain.” Heck, even the ship’s emotionless android (Zoie Palmer) has great cheekbones.

As noted, divulging too much too fast threatens to undercut some of the mystery, either within the ship – where there’s an “Alien”-like quality to not knowing what might lurk beyond each dimly lit hallway – or outside it. “Dark Matter” thus derives some of its kick, at least initially, from keeping its characters in the dark.

That said, there’s still an awful lot that the crew – and by extension, the audience – doesn’t understand, offering abundant possible storylines to creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie (“Stargate”), who originally developed the concept as a TV show before turning it into a graphic novel. The series joins a Friday roster consisting of “Defiance” and the less-promising newcomer “Killjoys,” with all three hours exhibiting a similar look and tone – a compatibility that mostly reflects Syfy’s limited aspirations in its recent development and acquisitions.

Still, not all of the cabler’s dramas are created equal, and “Dark Matter” feels like it could be a modest cut above. So just to put it in the terms of its no-name crew, on a scale of One to Six, this one rates about a Four.

TV Review: 'Dark Matter'

(Series; Syfy, Fri. June 12, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Prodigy Pictures.

Crew

Executive producers, Jay Firestone, Joseph Mallozzi, Vanessa Piazza, Paul Mullie, Keith Goldberg, Michael Richardson; producer, Norman Denver; director, TJ Scott; writers, Mallozzi, Mullie, based on their Dark Horse Comics graphic novel; camera, Craig Wright; production designer, Ian Brock; editor, Paul Day; music, Benjamin Pinkerton; casting, Lisa Parasyn, John Comerford. 60 MIN.

Cast

Melissa O’Neil, Marc Bendavid, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr., Jodelle Ferland, Roger Cross, Zoie Palmer

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  1. Del_Duio says:

    EDIT: Forgot to add that the action scenes are really well done. Far better than I would have thought. I know it’s not everything, but they got that right!

  2. Del_Duio says:

    I just started watching this yesterday and have seen episodes 1-5. I’ll echo a bit from the last guy because I kind of agree: Aside from the Samurai killer everybody else seems to be a character from another (and possibly better) TV show. The android? TNG’s Data. The kid has River all over her. Number Three is trying hard to be Jaye from Firefly, but fortunately he’s starting to come around after a few episodes. Actually, a lot of this show screams FIREFLY CREW only not nearly as likable.

    Strangely, Number Two is the one character who I’d consider the show’s weakest link so far. I don’t know what it is.. maybe that she’s too pretty to be believable in the role or that they felt the need to stick her in a half shirt for no real reason aside from being “Neckbeard bait” which is a shame.

    Every episode so far seems to purposely have a big twist at the very end, and knowing nothing about the comic the twist at the end of the pilot really had me suprised and honestly was the only reason I gave the other 4 episodes a shot (for which I’m glad I did, as the show’s turning out great!)

  3. Kash says:

    The problem with this series is, I can point to any character and nod to his or her counterpart in another scifi show. I feel like I’m watching a kid base her first story on her favorite scifi characters while insisting they are “original”.

  4. Grapthars Hammer says:

    You guys need to stop bashing this series, it’s a better effort than most b movies. The only way we will see anything better is if studios see an interest. Stop comparing this to Firefly, Joss Whedon is on another level and has joined the ranks of JJ Abrams and Spielberg etc… as far as productions go. If Fox had handled it right that show might still be on as far as I’m concerned very few series of any genre can compare to the writing of Firefly, it was original and the characters were excellently cast and acted. If anything the one series Dark Matter reminds me of, a slightly lower budget variation of Stargate Universe which to me was equal to Firefly just didn’t get a chance

  5. zingizngzingbah says:

    Big sci-fy fan, and though there is some terrible stuff out there, Dark Matter isn’t one of them. I loved it. Not perfect, but definitely not as terrible as some of these butt holes claim. I’m sure they didn’t go beyond the pilot – which wasn’t the best, I have to admit. It does improve though

    • tautha says:

      “butt holes”. Very insightful.
      I respect your right to your opinion, and the right to voice it, but it automatically looses a great deal of credibility when you resort to comments like this. Why not impress us with some constructive dialogue instead of just attempting to smear those who don’t share your view? You certainly won’t win anyone over with this approach.

  6. byyong says:

    I’m curious after 9 episodes how many of the negative comments have changed their mind. Whilst not as harsh as some of them, I thought that DM started off as a barely average sci-fi series trying to fill a space oddessy gap that has long been missing on tv. I thought the assortment of chracters were almost predictable and formulatic at first, and on some level they still are:

    1) Pretty boy moral compass
    2) Amazonian tough girl leader
    3) Douche bag “bounty hunter-sque” type, whoes really a good guy
    4) Space ninja….come on!
    5) Wayward child sidekick and stereotypical “little sister” role
    6) Muscle man filling big brother role of the kid
    ..and throw in your typical android crappling with the human condition

    However, my curiousity to find out who is responsible for the mind wipe and why made me stick around for a few more episodes left me pleasantly suprised how the writer suddenlly twisted perceptions about each character with their past back stories, especially 1’s identity and 2’s secret. 3 has actually grown on me now despite being still quite archetypy, same with 5. 6 on the other hand has potential, but his twist is a bit boring and overly righteous. 4 is being set up for a big arching plot with his family which I find way to over the top and too serious. Android also is archetypical but suppose is good for comedy relief.

    Will stick with the show and see what happens, but hope for bigger improvements or a better space oddessy…..God I mis Star Trek series, Firefly and BSG.

    • tautha says:

      Nope, still find it under powered and I’m still irritated by some of the characterization. Oddly enough, after watching Dark Matter the other evening, I was compelled to watch my Firefly box set once again. Enjoyed it immensely (surprise) but it also punctuated all the things I feel let Dark Matter down. I suppose if I didn’t have the comparison to make, I might feel more kindly toward Dark Matter, but I know I would never had warmed to it in the same way.

  7. damien says:

    Helen, what planet are you from?? d.m is cheap, poorly acted and predictable.terrible rubbish

  8. Helen Stark says:

    Dark Matter is BY FAR my favorite new show this year (yes, even better than Game of Thrones to me). I’ve been waiting for the SG1 writers to do something, and this does not disappoint. I hope it has a 10 year run too. LOVE IT!!!

  9. I will never understand the inability of critics of science fiction television to identify bad art. Science fiction television has been dead since Firefly died. Even the last season of Doctor Who was terrible… What I can say about Dark Matter after watching the first two episodes is this: it is not worse than Andromeda. The ship architecture seems repurposed from an old show, maybe Farscape. The characterizations are all flat and predictable. The technology is poorly envisioned and slapped together. The production values seem outdated, the score is cheap, the actors are poor in skill.

    I mean, c’mon. The asian guy is also a ninja, a ninja in space, who is calm, short on words and menacing without words. Where have I heard that before? In every martial arts movie ever? And the skinny pretty boy is also the moral backbone of the group, whining and throwing himself into stupid situations because you know, a doctor can’t have any practical sense. They’re headed by a strong female character who seemed to come out of the thought process “We need a strong female character. Her traits? Well, you know… She’s strong… She’s female… Oh, she’s DEFINITELY a character!” I’ve always liked the actor the picked for the pilot, and that was the one thing which actually threw me off – he was not the captain. I thought that right away. But he’s the pilot; that’s pretty close. I’m glad he’s not a ripoff of some other successful pilot character like Walsh. But hey, the engineer chick is. She’s practically just River, except for the fact that she’s a kawaii pseudo-genius instead of an actual genius. And the robot is basically a response to the emotion “I miss Data.” But she’s totally ignorant of all the advances made in thinking about robotics in the great science fiction films exploring themes of the technological singularity or through the advances in AI.

    Look at Extant – though there were many things wrong with that show, they really tried to think about technology from a reasonable perspective. Sure they ignored augmented reality tech, nanorobotics and quantum computing… But the technology involved was reasonably well depicted. The cellphones were smaller and more powerful, the cars drove themselves (sure, that’s not original, but it is factual!). But to return to AI, the robot kid was programmed to be a kid, but the problem is he isn’t; he’s a robot. That means he can learn and appreciate MORE than humans, not less. He can learn instantly, and reason impeccably well. And they play with that as part of the theme. Yet they’re robot isn’t even taking advantage of cloud-computing to be derived from the ship’s computers. She needs permission to connect to the computers. She has no logic, she’s this poorly programmed linear function which asks “Did computer programmers do anything in the past three hundred years?” Andromeda got that and Andromeda was crap. Mass Effect got that too, with EDI being an AI whose computers were in a central bank in the middle of the ship which CONTROLLED the robot body remotely. But I suspect the characters in Dark Matter haven’t even heard of nanobots, and the CEO’s of the megacorps are all still using calculators to figure out which stock decisions to make next.

    And an “FTL Drive”? Really? Couldn’t even think enough about physics to figure out how your intergalactic community can manage being intergalactic? Star Trek at least tried to resolve Einsteins problems with the speed of light but making their ships travel through pocket universes to subvert the limits of physics. And in Firefly the ditched the whole problem entirely. This ship just seems to run on fairy dust.

    I’m just wanting there to be some new, fresh, good science fiction on television. But the best they can shit out is Orphaned Black, which is a lot browner than black. It came from a human ass, whereas Dark Matter is pretty much what Nibbler craps out his back end.

    • tautha says:

      I Couldn’t agree more.

      If I’d had the time and patience, I would have written pretty much what you have. Point for point you have reiterated most of the things I berated my poor wife about before she sent me from the room (she’s still watching it).

  10. Easy says:

    Melissa Oneil who is incredibly beautiful really adds heart to this show….the rest of the cast are fantastic, so much so that you really care about their characters. Add the original story line, and we may fine a worthy heir to firefly. A show that may honor firefly with several good seasons. Cast has great chemistry.

  11. tautha says:

    Ok, that was episode 3, and I am so done with this. I can’t believe such unimaginative lazy tosh came from such a reputable stable. It’s not enough to toss out a little teaser in the last few minutes of the show to justify the tedium that precedes it. Very disappointing.

    • Wow, you’re thick skinned. I couldn’t even get past episode 2.

      I’d appreciate it if you read my longish comment above and gave me feedback.

      • zingizngzingbah says:

        I don’t get why someone would waste sooo much time writing such a long review – what a negative thing to do… just move on, and find something else to watch, and don’t piss all over something the rest of us can enjoy.

        I love the show for what it is

  12. IB says:

    “Dark Matter” has a good initial concept with the amnesia but the characters were disappointingly stock, as was the cliched dialogue. The android, for example, is very Data-esque. It could have been an interesting opportunity to try out stuff we haven’t seen before, but we’ve seen this all before somewhere else, and the emotion is non-existent. The design is unoriginal: the costumes look stereotypically sci-fi, the ship interior looks like a 1980s nightclub and the exterior is pretty much a rip-off of Prometheus. It’s just not brave enough. After the big reveal at the end of the first episode it’s hard to see how this can develop into an interesting show.

  13. jgfox39 says:

    I enjoyed the Show and the action, characters and the production values are great. The Android played by Zoei Palmer is a unique and interesting character and not just a clone of a mechanical Spock.

    I’m glad the writers resolved some of the mystery of the crews background … a excellent twist.

    Good start … let’s see if it can be soooo good and popular that there is an second season.

  14. Steve says:

    The reviewer must have awfully low standards. This show is TERRIBLE.

  15. Jack Leighton says:

    The show looks incredible and then I noticed it was TJ Scott who directed and I thought “of course”! Everything this guy touches- orphan black, black sails, the strain, Gotham, etc has a unique aesthetic. He’s the next Cuesta and my pick for the best pilot director to emerge in years!!!

    • I hope not. So far everything he’s done has struck me as mediocre at best. I haven’t watched Black Sails or The Strain. But Gotham got really boring, Orphaned Black was silly and repulsive and this show is just a repetition of tired old concepts. It’s as if art to this director is not something you create, but something you borrow from others. I can imagine what went through his head:

      “What I want is the political setting of Deus Ex in space. I want the crew to be on Serentiy, but since it’s intergalactic it’ll have an FTL Drive. Nothing wrong with that… I want them to have a robot like Data. I want there to be a silent-but-deadly ninja. River has to be the engineer – but she’s got to be kawaii Speaking of kawaii I need the naive little boy who is the protagonist of every anime ever but as a doctor. They’ll be backed up by Jane from Firefly and Joshua from First Wave. Wait! I’m missing something! A strong female character! Well, I’ll just tack one on. Geeze, this is starting to look pretty done before. Wait, I know! I’ll do what every soap opera has done ever and give EVERYONE amnesia! That’s a wrap, let’s buy the cheapest writer we can find and purchase the production tech of Stargate off Ebay.”

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