Syfy's Stellar Summer Shows / by Jefferson Geiger


The summer drought is upon us. Cable networks' reservoir of shows becomes a slow drip as reruns pad the schedule. Hollywood has the usual mix of mindless action features and a few family friendly films. All is quiet on the video game front until October. These breaks are understandable. The warm weather and abundance of sun means we should be enjoying the plethora of outdoor activities for which our state is famous. But when I’m icing my feet after hiking a 14,000-foot tall mountain I want to be watching something good. Thankfully Syfy has an oasis for us tonight.

The sophomore seasons of two original programs, "Killjoys" and "Darkmatter," air this evening to quench our thirst. I know what you're thinking. "Syfy? Their shows rarely last a year or two and their movies are cheesy B-grade garbage."

But trust me, this time it’s different.

"Killjoys" takes place in a future where corporations rule the galaxy and bounty hunters are the only form of law enforcement. The show follows a crew of three bounty hunters, refreshingly lead by Jannah John-Kamen as Dutch, as they roam quadrants in their space ship fighting anyone their warrants name.

The shootouts are fun, exciting and well choreographed. Even though the explosions and car chases are entertaining enough to watch alone, the showrunners know that cops versus robbers can’t hold the audience’s interest forever. To turn things on their sides, the antagonists aren’t always run of the mill crooks and the show sneaks in social commentary on class and oppression.

The witty dialogue is sharp and alleviates the tension when the bullets are flying. Aaron Ashmore, not to be confused with his twin brother Shawn who is known for playing Iceman in the X-Men movies, and Luke Macfarlane play brothers so naturally that it’s easy to forget that they’re acting. The doctor, priest, bartender and other side characters all delightfully help round out the ensemble with their repartee. Even the few lines that the ship’s artificial intelligence has are clever enough to elicit a chuckle.

If you're a fan of space westerns with a charismatic cast, then this is for you. It’s a light and fun adventure that’s a perfect way to kick off a Friday evening. While the loose nature of the show means you probably don't need to binge the first season before tonight's premiere, it wouldn't hurt.

However, "Dark Matter" is less swashbuckling and much more narrative driven. Imagine waking up on a space ship under attack with total amnesia. Who is launching missiles and why? Can the other crewmates be trusted? Why is there only one cargo hold on the entire ship that can't be opened? Even your name is unknown so everyone’s new moniker is the number that corresponds to the order in which they awoke.

This adaptation of the same-named comic book series, written by the Stargate franchise's Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, keeps me engaged with each new twist. But if you're avoiding mystery and cliffhangers because you've been burnt by shows like "Lost," don't worry. The writers understand that vagueness for the sake of it is not how to make a good story. Each question doesn't go unanswered long. And, though I have not read the comics, you could always check out the source material if a weekly cliffhanger is too stressful to handle.

The unique philosophical questions of agency and identity are a surprise in what should be a simple summer show. Are you responsible for what you did in your past life? If you used to be a criminal, should you still be one? Or will you fall into your old habits no matter what new life you try to live? Are you a clone, cyborg or some other science experiment? The idea of choosing one’s destiny is an immensely relatable concept no matter the set dressing.

It's hard to talk about without spoiling the first season, but the focus on characters rather than futuristic technology or special effects elevates "Dark Matter" higher than similar shows in the genre. I wouldn’t exactly equate it with “The Expanse,” “Battlestar Gallactica,” or other hard-hitting space operas, but it’s a more than adequate science fiction tale that’s deeper than it appears.

Both programs are great but if there's one show you watch this summer, besides AMC's excellent "Preacher" which is halfway over, make it “Dark Matter.” Syfy has broken the dam and media streams are flowing strong.

This column was originally published in the July 1, 2016 edition of the Valley Courier.