June 13, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Dark Matter”


DARK MATTER:  Friday 10PM on Syfy – Change the Channel

You can easily imagine the first episode of Syfy’s new DARK MATTER as being the pitch that sold the series, and it also sounds like the start of a joke:  6 people and an android wake up on a spaceship…  (In fact, the show is based on a comic-book series.)   Because of the structure of the first episode, written by comic-book and TV creators Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, we really won’t know what the series is going to be like until it’s had at least another airing or two.

The inhabitants of the spacecraft find themselves abruptly awakened from suspended animation to discover that they’re almost completely without memory of their prior selves.  Having no idea of their names, they call each other by numbers based on the order in which they woke up.  The episode is set up as a mystery, with clues along the way:  although they have no conscious recollection of their past lives, they do retain some sense memory, so that one (Melissa O’Neil) finds she can operate the controls of the spaceship, another (Alex Mallari, Jr) is a master swordsman, and so on.  There is also the odd fact that the android’s (Zoie Palmer) initial programming calls for her to kill all the humans, until she’s rebooted to a more tame condition.

In addition, the hour is a mislead, although one that’s not difficult to see coming.  The cargo on the ship is weaponry, and when the android is able to establish where the ship had been heading (she simply mind-melds with the craft’s operating system), it develops that the planet’s people were expecting a shipment of arms to help them defend themselves against the ruthless group of corporate mercenaries that were going to try and take over the local mines for nefarious purposes.  Our protagonists believe that they were the rebels providing the weapons, only to discover in the episode’s last minute that in fact, they were the mercenaries, all but one of them boasting a long criminal record.

With that central mystery solved, Dark Matter as a series will presumably be about how the crew members decide to lead their lives with what amounts to a clean slate.  And there are plenty of puzzles left to be solved, like who emptied their memories and sent them into space in the first place, and the identity of the sixth member of the group (Jodelle Ferland), a young woman who has strange memories/dreams, and who doesn’t appear to be a criminal like the rest of them.  Plus there’s that huge door in the hold that the girl says contains “secrets” and that (so far) can’t be opened.  It remains to be seen how satisfyingly those will be unraveled.

Unfortunately, Dark Matter provides very little incentive for wanting to stick around and find out.  The characters are interchangeably uninteresting–most of them aren’t even worth identifying–with none of them showing much more personality than the android.  It’s possible that in the opening hour, this was a function of their not knowing their own identities, and the actors will make more of an impression going forward, but it’s not a particularly promising way to start.  Dark Matter is also one of Syfy’s cheaply produced shows, most of the action taking place on the soundstage sets of the spaceship.  The few locations, when the crew visited the mining planet, looked like leftovers from  Z Nation shoots.  Pilot director T.J. Scott was unable to make the seemingly meager production values look more expensive than they were.

Syfy has aired a steady supply of these inexpensive thrillers over the last several years, and with shows like Dominion getting renewed, the network’s business model must profit from these productions, even though their ratings tend to be unimpressive.  To the extent Syfy is hoping for one of its original series to be a breakout hit, though, Dark Matter doesn’t appear to be the project that’s going to light the network’s darkness.


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."