TV Review: ‘Killjoys’ and ‘Dark Matter’

'Killjoys' Review: The Summer Sci-Fi Series
Courtesy Syfy

I hope you have a “Killjoys” in your life.

“Killjoys” returns to Syfy July 1, and settling in to watch this show never fails to put me in a happy place. Some TV shows effortlessly tick a large number of the boxes you want them to tick and throw in a few more goodies just for fun, and “Killjoys” is that show for me. My affection for “Killjoys” might border on the unreasonable, but I can summon enough objectivity to assess its overall strengths and weaknesses. There are a lot of the former, very few of the latter. It’s a light, well-made, zippy TV show that knows what it is and delivers solid action, adventure and character development despite its limited budget. The cast has terrific chemistry, and the second season of the show ably builds on the strengths of the quite enjoyable first. 

Of course, I like some existential despair-inducing TV — if you’re a TV aficionado in this day and age and you can’t absorb a fair amount challenging or emotionally draining fare, good luck to you. There’s no doubt that some of the darkest shows are truly moving and necessary. But I also like well-made escapism with intelligent underpinnings, the kind of enjoyable show that quietly raises worthwhile questions and is carried through its weekly escapades by an energetic, efficient vibe. At the moment, few shows hit those targets more consistently than “Killjoys.”

I get that your ideal escapist show might not be mine, and vice versa. But if you like any of the elements described in the next few paragraphs, you should give it a try.

“Killjoys” has frisky, funny dialogue and a trio of lead actors — Hannah John-Kamen as Dutch and Aaron Ashmore and Luke Macfarlane as brothers John and D’avin Jaqobis — all of whom can do comedy, drama and action with equal facility. It’s got a shifty villain, Khlyen (Rob Stewart), who may be less awful than the evil forces he himself is battling. It has space bounty hunters, which is a fictional premise all thinking humans should appreciate, at least in theory.

“Killjoys” is the nickname of those who work for the “Reclamation Apprehension Coalition”: They collar criminals and serve warrants in a little corner of space called the Quad, where these agents serve as the police force, more or less. Dutch believes her posse can do its job in a reasonably neutral fashion, but the ongoing power struggles in the Quad mean that many Killjoys are being drawn into increasingly violent conflicts, and neutrality is often not a realistic option any more. Of course, Dutch and the Jaqobis brothers typically end up on the side of the underdogs, but they also have bosses they answer to, and thus they’re often walking a fine line between enforcing an unfair “peace” and helping those who are fomenting revolution. 

Like any self-respecting sci-fi show, “Killjoys” sneaks in a fair amount of brisk commentary on social concerns, and this show lightly explores issues of class, oppression, corporate overreach and political representation. An almost omnipotent Company runs the Quad, but there are also nine wealthy families who pull the strings in the halls of power. If I have one minor nitpick about the show, it’s that I don’t quite understand how the families and the Company relate to each other, and I hope the second season, beyond the two fine episodes that kick off the season, shed additional light on this set-up. (An alert for fans of the recent Syfy drama “Defiance”: Stephanie Leonidas guests in the season two premiere of “Killjoys,” which is a smart bit of casting.)

A fair number of the Killjoys’ meetings with disgraced doctors, revolution-preaching priests and the like happen inside a run-down bar in the working-class Old Town quarter; the dive is run by the delightful recurring character Pree (Thom Allison). A few more things in its favor: “Killjoys” is unapologetically about a woman who kicks ass, Dutch is coming to terms with a believably complicated past, and the drama has a woman of color as its undisputed lead. That is still far too rare on the TV scene, especially in the genre arena.

To sum up: “Killjoys” has flirtatious banter, a spaceship run by a tartly intelligent AI, a politically active religious order, “Orphan Black”-style meditations on extreme body modifications, simmering romances, a charismatic bartender, a mysterious order called “Level Six” and explosions on alien worlds. Seriously, do I need to go on?

Just one more thing: One of the most amusing aspects of “Killjoys” is its name: Creator Michelle Lovretta, who also came up with the similarly entertaining and empowered genre show “Lost Girl,” swiped a word often thrown at feminists and made it the name of a show about a woman with a complicated past who flies through space righting wrongs and being a credible badass. Talk about reclamation: Lovretta has turned a formerly pejorative term into one of my favorite words. 

Also returning July 1 is another Syfy spaceship series, “Dark Matter,” which eventually won me over during its first season. That said, “Dark Matter” tends to employ sci-fi tropes without examining them too closely: The android character is like almost every other android character ever, the Asian character’s storylines veer dangerously into stereotypical territory and some of the writing for female characters is sigh-inducing. There’s no real subversion on display here, just the standard moves and dialogue you’d expect from the genre.

Yet the first season ended up being a fairly satisfying locked-room mystery: There was literally a locked storage area within the ship, and the characters themselves, having woken up from cryosleep with their memories wiped, had to piece together their pasts and figure out how to survive in an unforgiving slice of the galaxy.

Not all the characters are interesting and some of the performances are shakier than others (and “Dark Matter’s” clunky production design is less pleasing than that of the sprightlier “Killjoys”). But for hardcore sci-fi fans, “Dark Matter” should have enough upsides to keep them tuning in: It has a sense of humor, reliable forward momentum, and it generally gets the job done reasonably well.

It’s worth noting that there will once again be a dearth of space-set TV shows when “Killjoys” and “Dark Matter” are done for the season, so if that’s your cup of tea, take advantage of this programming block while you can. 

TV Review: 'Killjoys' and 'Dark Matter'

(Series: Syfy, Friday July 1, 9 p.m. ET ("Killjoys") and 10 p.m. ET ("Dark Matter")

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  1. bethgmccrea says:

    The Killjoys trailer put me off, but a decided to give it a chance after reading your review. THANK YOU! Love this show & have binge watched my way through almost all of it over the past week.

  2. Jim DiGriz says:

    Both are good, but I like character development in Killjoys much more.

  3. jure says:

    Dark matter is improving a lot and hopefully it willl get extended to see where mystery goes

    • PG says:

      I like them both, but Dark Matter really has my attention this season. Hope it was One’s clone Corso shot. I like his character.

  4. nerdrage says:

    Neither Dark Matter or Killjoys is worth bothering with, with so much on TV that is better. Even SyFy has better shows – 12 Monkeys, The Expanse, The Magicians. I used to watch Stargate but that sort of repetitive drivel wouldn’t pass muster nowadays.

  5. Nick Green says:

    Generally agree on all points. I’m surprised you Stargate doesn’t get any mention though.

    Killjoys has that same style of sci-fi drama / comedy as SG1 and Atlantis. Fans of either – and there were many – would do well to give Killjoys a look.

    Dark Matter, which I’m also much less impressed with, is by the people behind SG1 and Atlantis.

    “The android character is like almost every other android character ever…”

    Wearing lycra with blonde hair in a bun. Not at all like 7 of 9. With the rest crew taking the names 1 through 6. Wow. Though I find her character more entertaining than most. She gets some good lines.

  6. stevenjohnson says:

    Killjoys has lights, usually blue, shining from the walls into everyone’s eyes. The usual exception is when for no obvious reason there is no lighting at all. Unless you believe the secret of the show is that these are alternate universe humans who really like that sort of thing, it is distinctly a flaw in production design. Also, for what it’s worth, space bounty hunters are not actually interesting and very little, if any, of the continuing story line, which is thoroughly conventional, has anything to do with being Killjoys.

    Somehow I found the question of whether the characters on Dark Matter would reinvent themselves, or
    Flitcraft themselves back into their old personas.

  7. I didn’t like Killjoys, as they had to go and do the tired love triangle bit with the two brothers. I dropped the show in episode 5-6. Not too much improvement, unengaging infodumps, pedestrian action and not a very gripping story.
    Dark matter at least had the mystery element going for it and some characters which were more interesting. The show kept my attention, while Killljoys made me want to browse my phone while watching.

  8. Dark Matter is marginal. Killjoys is junk.

  9. Mikael says:

    quite a funny read when Variety gave Killjoys a rating of 30 out of 100 last year.

    I agree with their opinion back then. A cheap looking discount show.

  10. S says:

    Glad to see some coverage of both of these shows. Killjoys was so good, it was one of my favorite news shows last year. I think the main trio has great chemistry, there’s a decent attempt at world building, and it’s just fun to watch. Good to know season 2 is off to a good start.

    Dark Matter was less impressive, but maybe because I was way more excited for it than Killjoys. I think the best thing about season 1 was the female characters – Two was by far my favorite, Android was kind of funny, and the girl was a pretty interesting, fun character. Hopefully they remain just as good in season 2 and the guy’s get some better material to work with.

  11. Another great thing about Killjoys is how self-aware the show creator, Michelle Lovretta, is. Heard her speak at a few Cons and she is really smart and savvy about the kind of show she’s putting together. Dutch is who she is because Lovretta wanted a great, smart, sexy female lead of colour (hell Lovretta even realizes that she hired two attractive guys that she can trot out for eye candy every once in a while!)

  12. ekolint48 says:

    I agree with both your assessments for these shows. I actually started out only watching Dark Matter and semi-avoiding Killjoys. Simply based off of the premises I figured Dark Matter would be better of the two but was proven wrong when I finally got into Killjoys towards the end of its 1st season. The character interactions were just so much richer and less formulaic imo in Killjoys. Still liked DM enough to check out the 2nd season, but I am really looking forward to Killjoys more. Oh, was also impressed by The Expanse at the end of summer.

  13. Mary Kirk says:

    I enjoyed both thoroughly, but I will admit I liked Dark Matter better. And I can point to two things that tipped me over – the actors and the music. No matter how much better Killjoys is with your points, I’m not overly fond of the two main actors in Killjoys (although I LOVE the lead) and the music they used literally made me cringe back from my tv every time it came on. Never underestimate the effect of the whole package on how well the show is received. Those two facts made me like watching Killjoys, while I loved watching Dark Matter.

  14. PatriciaLee says:

    I love both shows, which save me from needing too much good luck, since I can’t stand “…emotional draining fare” that’s not blue sky ended. No GofT or Shield type stuff in this household, except for Fargo. Thanks for the fun article.

  15. ken says:

    I enjoy Killjoys! The cast, chemistry and storylines are on point! July 1st can’t come soon enough for me.

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