"They're just there because Dark Matter is a somewhat lazy, generic space show that isn't able to rise up and shake hands with its own fun premise." https://t.co/zgsIR0tw6y
— Joseph Mallozzi (@BaronDestructo) December 13, 2021
Awww, man. This takes me back. This was the first published review of Dark Matter I read and, to be honest, it was more frustrating than disappointing given that much of the criticism hinged on what I felt was a rather myopic interoperation that ignored the show’s central conceit. Yes, the characters presented in the pilot were archetypes, magnified by the fact that, without memories or past experience to build on, they did come across as rather stock. But the whole point of the show was to undermine expectations and the only way to do so, I’d argue, was by establishing a familiar baseline. Would, for instance, THREE have developed into the fan favorite he would later become later if he hadn’t been such a pat asshole in those first few episodes? I would say no. One of my favorite character turns over the course of my t.v.-writing career was that of Stargate’s Richard Woolsey, played by the incredible Robert Picardo. When first introduced in SG-1’s seventh season, he was as an annoying pencil-pushing bureaucrat. By end of Atlantis’s fifth season, he was a beloved member of the Stargate family – but it took about nine seasons of television to get there. And, I would argue, that if he had been introduced as a tough but ultimately warm-hearted individual in those early episodes, he wouldn’t have been nearly as popular in his later appearances. What made Woolsey and THREE special to many viewers was the development in their characters, not so much growth as the discovery of their hitherto hidden attributes that gradually came to the fore. These characters didn’t change so much as revealed themselves over time and audiences responded because: a) they went along for the ride and b) their initial expectations were subverted. It’s very hard to surprise an audience, especially sci-fi audiences, but when you are successful, it’s magic. And so it was with Woolsey, THREE and, I think, the rest of the crew of the Raza. And so, hopefully, it was with the show as a whole as it sought to present those recognizable sci-fi chestnuts and then turn them on their ear through character, surprise and a dash of humor. Nowadays, an audience’s short attention span means there’s little room for subtlety, set-ups, and slow burns so you proceed at your own risk. But in the case of Dark Matter, I couldn’t proceed any other way.
So, yes, this annoying was frustrating, but I knew what lay ahead and looked forward to IGN’s reaction to future episodes when they would no doubt be delighted by the surprise of subverted expectations.
Alas, I waited in vain as they didn’t review past the pilot.
To be honest, the only review that actually disappointed me back then was Gateworld’s which dismissed the show as rather mundane. I suppose I was disappointed because, after some twelve years of doing interviews with them, and knowing they were intimately familiar with my writing tone and style, I assumed they would have recognized the narrative set-up or, at least, shown a little more patience. I nevertheless looked forward to Gateworld’s reaction to future episodes. But they also didn’t review past the pilot.
Those early negative reviews aside, once the series got going, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and continued to be throughout the show’s run. Sure there were certain episodes that didn’t land as well as others, some story or character that didn’t sit right with some but the response was overwhelmingly positive (and the reviewers were entertained) because: a) they went along for a fun ride and b) their expectations were occasionally subverted.
Surprising an audience is hard. Getting the green light to be permitted the opportunity to surprise an audience even harder. But I’m working on it.
In early 2022, I’ll finally be going out with some of the projects I developed this year. I look forward that elusive green light, those initial reviews and, most importantly, subverting those expectations.