June 20, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “Dark Matter”


DARK MATTER:  Friday 10PM on Syfy

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on DARK MATTER:  A half-dozen people (plus an android) wake up in deep space, and find their memories wiped out.  However, their bodies retain sense memories of serious fighting, piloting and other skills.  They discover that before they were put into hypersleep, they were vicious mercenaries, working on behalf of intergalactic corporate interests against the innocent inhabitants of a planet the company wanted to conquer.

Episode 2: The second hour of Dark Matter was actually the back half of what was intended to be a 2-hour pilot, so naturally it picked up just where last week had left off, with the group’s discovery that they were in fact the bad guys in the story of the mining planet.  Predictably, they soon decided with varying degrees of enthusiasm to provide some help to the settlers, with the menfolk going back down to the planet to hand over half their weapons cache, while the girls stayed at home on the spacecraft.  What followed was that the guys of course found themselves compelled into becoming freedom fighters, while Two (Melissa O’Neil) appeared to skip out on them, but was actually just zipping off to find another mining conglomerate out of nowhere with whom she could make an instantaneous deal, saving the miners by signing a 99-year lease for their planet on her own unilateral authority.  It wasn’t clear why this mining conglomerate was any less awful than the other, but whatever.

This was quite a mixture of terrible writing (by series co-creator Joseph Mallozzi) with direction (by TJ Scott) utterly unable to cover for the paltry budget at his disposal.  (The “planet” consisted of interiors of the same abandoned factory set that’s been the location for B-movie action sequences for about the last 30 years.)  Dark Matter is so much a twin of its Friday Syfy Canadian content partner Killjoys that the same supporting actor (Rob Stewart) showed up in the pilots for both, but of the two, Killjoys is by far the class act.  Although it’s possible to distinguish between the characters if one works at it (there’s the one who knows how to fly the shuttle, there’s the swordfighter, there’s the girl who’s apparently the only one without a criminal background), all of them speak the same flat, inflectionless dialogue that one would say makes them seem like the android, except that the script tries to squeeze comedy out of the android by giving her the futuristic technology equivalent of sitcom “Well, I never” reaction shots.  The actors appear powerless against the grim suction of their material.

The ratings were bad for the premiere of Dark Matter last week, but they were better than the numbers for the much more expensive Defiance that preceded it.  Utterly basic genre pieces like this have an audience, and perhaps Dark Matter is at the price-point where that’s enough.  Its substance suggests that even so, Syfy isn’t getting a bargain.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."