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TV Review: ‘Killjoys’ and ‘Dark Matter’

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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