SyFy’s DARK MATTER, based on the graphic novel, begins this week feeling very much like a stand-alone episode of a science fiction anthology series. Six people wake up on a generic damaged spaceship with no memory of who they are and what they are doing. Working together, somewhat, they attempt to piece together their identities and mission, which may not be as good an idea as that sounds.
As we first meet the cast, self-named for the order in which they woke up, they seem pretty easy to pigeonhole. There’s One (Marc Bendavid, Hard Rock Medical), the pretty-boy peacemaker. Two (Canadian theatre star Melissa O’Neil) is a natural, fair-minded leader. Three (Anthony Lemke, Good Witch) is the angry one. Four (Alex Mallari Jr., True Justice) has some mad martial arts skills. Five (Jodelle Ferland, The Cabin in the Woods) is a weird, super-intelligent kid. Six (Roger R. Cross, Continuum, 24) is a gentle-leaning giant.
As they begin to figure out their personalities, if not their backstories, muscle memory taking over where they lack, they end up being a pretty bland group. Cross is the only very recognizable member of the ensemble, but in this case, going with unknowns does not pay off. It feels like a cast of second-stringers making a low-budget program that isn’t likely to garner a sizeable American audience.
The most impressive face on screen is that of Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl), who plays The Android that can connect directly with the ship. Aside from a few juicy bits for Ferland, Palmer is the only one who gets to show range and prove why she deserves to be a main player in this show. She brings a mix of coldness and sly humor that make her stand out in an otherwise mediocre group.
The story at the heart of the DARK MATTER pilot doesn’t help matters much. As I mentioned at the start, this feels like an anthology installment, basically a short story with not much momentum to keep it going. The ‘twist’ at the end of the episode could have been tweaked only slightly and this would have been a vaguely interesting, not very memorable, stand-alone hour. To keep this plot going for any length of time, the mystery at the heart of the piece needs to be grand and meaningful. Neither of those adjectives seem to apply here.
The best thing that DARK MATTER has going for it is that it’s on the SyFy channel. While low-quality shows don’t last long on the network (though high-quality ones don’t fare too much better), it is in the right place to find the small segment of the viewership that this will appeal to. Those attracted by the simple narrative, one familiar to the genre, may be interested in this example of it. Plus, given all the cheesy-on-purpose TV movies that will air around this, DARK MATTER may look good by comparison because at least it has a story that seems to make sense and there are no awful, gory effects.
Could DARK MATTER have been better? Absolutely. If it boasted a cast on the level of, say, Firefly, with its magnetic personalities and a deep mythology behind the story, the construct could remain the same and it would improve it a lot. What that means to me is that DARK MATTER itself is not an inherently bad idea, since I see a way it could be really good, but just comes across as poorly executed. That’s a shame, because no one involved seems to be doing a bad job; there’s just an overall blandness to most aspects of the production that cannot be overcome.
DARK MATTER premieres Friday, June 12th at 10 p.m. ET.