Killjoys Archive

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First Impressions: Dark Matter

My week in review of middling TV science fiction continues with some first impressions of Dark Matter.

Watching the first episode of Dark Matter is a bit like going to the gym for a hard cardio workout. At some point I always ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Where is this going? Surely there must be better ways to get what I want out of life?” But by the end of the workout my tone changes to, “you know, that wasn’t quite so bad. I don’t really want to do it again right now, but maybe I will in a day or two.”

Even though Dark Matter offers a few interesting narrative tidbits, watching its first hour felt like work. Specifically, the work of not rushing off to rewatch Deepwater Black, a little known show from the mid 90s which, as far as I recall, did a better job working with the “crew wakes up in a space ship and doesn’t know who they are” gimmick.

Dark Matter is also exhausting for its attempt to be racially diverse while still catering to the stereotypes of racialized characters e.g. the Asian guy is a master of the Japanese sword.

And lo, the writers, lost for ideas on how to build a cast, did turn their eye upon the Big Book of Character Clichés. From within the pages of this most sacred text did they find the following…

The can-do lady boss

The rogue with a heart of gold

The weird teenager girl with brain powers

The asshole American

The Asian character who is an expert of every martial art ever

The black guy in a science fiction show played by Roger Cross

As it was in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, so too shall it be today. Blessed be the Book.

Even in the face of these issues, I remain somewhat interested in seeing where the story goes. As lazy as it is to give the primary cast amnesia, it does create some potential for a dialogue on who the characters are supposed to be versus who they want to be. The big plot twist (what a twist) revealed at the end of the first episode finds our crew of brain scrambled sleeping beauties as a gang of vicious murderers and thieves.

Despite hooking me for a few episodes – unlike Killjoys, which I now watch only out of a sense of critical noblesse oblige – I see Dark Matter’s greatest challenge in proving it is capable of finding its own direction. Rugged miner-folk trying to survive on the raggity edge of space with the threat of an evil corporation looming large in the background is about as well trodden as it comes. Moreover, I’m tired of science fiction setting up “the company” as the go to bad guy. It’s too easy and too much of an effort to pander to “main street.” At least the likes of Continuum took corporations as antagonists to an interesting place with corporations-as-government. If Dark Matter can humanize “the corporation” into something that seems even half legitimate, I think it will find some success.

Ultimately, I see Dark Matter as something that is either going to get much better or much worse in very short order. There’s a lot of promise, but the writing needs to get to a place where it can tell a story without all the foreplay. I’ll let forty minutes of hand wringing followed by five minutes of forward motion slide for the first episode, but the series had best lock its shit down.

Also, I’d be thrilled if the writing would ease off on the hackneyed depictions of people of colour.


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First Impressions: Killjoys

Yeah, I know. I’m reviewing summer television as if it was something someone put an ounce of actual, honest, thought into writing. Here’s the thing, boys and girls, I’m in a weird headspace of hating pretty much everything I write lately. The situation is not improved by the fact that I was approached by, and rejected, yet another writing gig where they liked my work but couldn’t afford to pay me. I’m left feeling wholly mediocre as a writer and contemplating if all of my “success” isn’t a pile of self-delusion. Until such time as I can write myself out of wondering what the point of me is as a writer, I’m going to let the world lob some softballs across my plate.

Now who wants to see me sock a few dingers?

 

If I could summarize Killjoys’ first hour in two words, I would use the words below average. The episode’s first act had some great momentum, but it quickly fell flat on its face. Part of this stumble is due to the writing’s refusal to trust the audience to figure out the in medias res cold opening. With the initial gusto of bounty hunters bringing space criminals to justice – not exactly a brain buster in terms of concept – giving way to back peddling and exposition, the episode got stuck in the mud of explaining things I already figured out. Killjoys doesn’t help its cause by offering some stunningly bad expository dialogue. For example, the ominous company that runs the “quad system” is actually called, “The Company”.

Or how about when the bad guy said, “That ship cost me 90,000 joy.”

Are you butt-fucking-kidding me?

Visually, the series looks quintessentially Canadian i.e. cheap. I haven’t seen this many green screen shots since Attack of the Clones. Likewise, the CG is on par with what one might expect from the early 2000s. When we are finally treated to some physical props and sets, the frame is usually jumbled with literal garbage. I’m not sure what sort of aesthetic the series is playing at beyond, the future looks like wherever we could get permits to film.

Add to this, Killjoys suffers from some truly terrible camera work. It’s as if the cinematographer and director, fresh out of their first year of film school, set out to capture the style of House of Cards. Alas, their attempts to be artful with the camera are weird and alienating. The style makes me acutely aware of the fact I’m watching a show that insists on trying too hard. Heaping insult upon injury, Killjoys embraces a love of J.J. Abrams’ go to move: lens flare. So much lens flare. Haven’t we moved past the age of lens flare being a cool? I thought Star Trek Into Darkness represented peak lens flare.

The really sad part about writing this review is it puts me in a place to take a steaming dump on a series featuring a “strong female characterTM” who also appears to be a person of colour. For bonus points, series lead Hannah John-Kamen is playing a character who isn’t a sex object.

Televised science fiction is notoriously bad at putting women in command roles. I salute Killjoys for being progressive, but good casting doesn’t mean I’m going to give poor writing and lousy technical values a pass. So help me I’ve seen dozens of web series with a better eye for production than Killjoys.

After one hour, the only thing the series seems to do well is convincing me it is set in an interesting world. There’s is a lot going on in the background of Killjoys, but the pilot episode hasn’t filled me with confidence in its ability to make the most of that world. Moreover, I doubt Killjoys has the chops to do well in the areas where it is wholly derivative of other works. Said works include Cowboy Bebop, Firefly, Space Rangers, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Mass Effect, Midnight Run, The Chronicles of Riddick, Freelancer, Wing Commander: Privateer, Hyper Police, and Battletech.

Out of the gate, Killjoys is a below average affair. It presents as the Jim Belushi of science fiction. It is common, run-of-the-mill, and rather uninspired. Though it is clearly taking its queues from the likes of Firefly, Killjoys doesn’t seem to be doing much more than the likes of Starhunter, yet another crappy Canadian science fiction show about space bounty hunters. Does nothing else happen in space?