"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.
10 thoughts on “A lazy, generic space show that isn’t able to rise up and shake hands with its own fun premise!”
Ouch! But I tend to agree with the review. If you take the pilot at face value it’s just another “bunch of people wake up with amnesia’ trope that has been done a hundred times before. Apart from Two getting the beat down on One shortly after they wake up everyone slots into their stereotypes quite nicely. But I can’t see how you could do it any other way. You have to introduce the characters and the whole premise of the show is the Nature vs Nurture thing! If you wrote a pilot where everyone was in their final position and their personality was already defined then you would be writing a Star Trek TOS or TNG pilot! Nothing would change and everything would be reset at the end of each episode.
I don’t envy you trying to balance the “story and characters need room to grow” with “story and characters need to grab the audience’s attention right from the beginning”.
I can’t remember if you’ve ever mentioned watching “The Expanse” but there’s another show that continually subverts expectation and takes characters in directions you don’t expect.
You are an important part of the Sci-Fi universe, Joe! Your level of creativity is right up there and I think we are all better for the enjoyment you bring. Fingers crossed for you (and us, your viewers) in 2022 😊
I can’t imagine negatively reviewing a pilot episode then not coming back and reviewing other episodes. That’s not right. That should not be allowed.
I don’t take much stock in what critics say anyway. They have panned a show and been dead wrong plenty of times. Who cares what they think. I, the viewer, is what matters. I’m sorry you have to put up with that. You got to have really thick skin in show business.
“I can’t imagine negatively reviewing a pilot episode then not coming back and reviewing other episodes. That’s not right. That should not be allowed.”
I agree. That’s just unfair. It shows a lack of commitment; why even do the pilot, then? That would leave people thinking the rest of the series turned out not to be worth reviewing. And something the reviewer said in the article actually implied they would review other episodes.
Pilots are unusual creatures, in my opinion. Generally speaking, pilots are my least favorite episodes. I actually stuck with Dark Matter because I trusted you as a writer from Stargate. I figured wherever we ended up it would be a hell of a ride and it was! It’s a bummer when they don’t go past the first episode.
Ouch! I’ve never paid attention to the critics. They don’t seem to like Sci-fi very much. Plus, they seem to court clicks more than content.
Good point about shows finding their footing over several episodes! I could list quite a few shows that the first seasons were a little weak but as the shows went on, became a treasure.
I was on Gateworld years ago, and I wouldn’t put too much stock into what they say. I saw all the backstabbing and left. I’m not sure they could agree on a lunch destination.
Line Noise: Have you read the books for The Expanse? They are awesome! The show is good but the books are excellent! Also, did they recast or kill off Alex? I know there was some controversy about Cas (sorry Mr. M, I know he’s a friend). I’m just curious how they are handling that. I still can’t believe they replaced Johnny Depp in Grindelwald.
I never started liking Woolsey and think putting him in charge se6 was a show killer. I have never like robert Picardy since I first seen him in voyager.i do not see why everyone likes this guy so much. Maybe he a great guy in person but I have hated every character I have seen him portray. I knew the minute I seen the season finally of season 5 where they show him ruining atlantis and our presence in the Pegasus galaxy, I told my wife if they put him in charge in se.6 the show will be over and I was absolutely correct. He may not have been the obvious or official reason but he was a major factor.
Three’s development was one of my favorites. Going from generic asshole to be revealed to someone with a good heart who truly cares about the people around him.. The little found family he built with Five and Two became my favorite dynamic in the whole show. But my most favorite twist in the show was how at first you’re led to believe that One is going to be the team leader, he is called One after all, he’s the first to wake, he’s your typical male lead material.. but once Two stepped up it was no doubt that she was the true leader of the Raza. She was such a good protagonist and I loved how well written all of the female characters on the show were, and their dynamics with each other. People often looked down on Five because she was so young but Two had faith in her all along.. ahh I miss them so much.
I honestly am surprised to read that there is a fan of scifi in general and Stargate in particular that doesn’t like Robert Picardo. How can someone not like Robert Picardo or think that he is the reason Atlantis didn’t get renewed? If anything I would think him being on Atlantis would get some Robert Picardo fans to tune in and give Atlantis a chance.
I mean sheesh, the Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager never failed to be entertaining even when he was being callous or annoyingly bubbly. Woolsey made a great comedic straight man. How could anyone insult Robert Picardo’s acting?
I do somewhat agree that there were times when the show used tropes that could exist equally well in any other scifi show (rebellious robots, extradimensional alien invaders, time travel and manipulation) instead of playing with its unique amnesiac angle more. Like the fact that although they discussed the possibility of meeting former victims and their loved ones in “Episode 2”, this never actually happened (not counting Cyrus King, since he didn’t seem like a goodie himself) and they never got an opportunity to be forgiven by someone they’d hurt. And when they encountered other bad guys and mercs who were much like they used to be (ex. the real Jace Corso, Wexler’s crew, and various others), they never debated what the ethics would be of maybe giving them a similar second chance with another mindwipe, which is a question the very existence of mindwipes naturally raises.
And I think that One’s plotline kind of tried to do two things at once that stepped on each other’s toes: playing with the amnesia and identity theme by having him turn out to be someone other than he was supposed to be, but also having him be the character who most cared about redeeming himself, which would be more dramatically compelling if he was actually the crewmember who needed redemption the most. And as result of Six also not being a real crook on top of that (and Six’s reveal was more necessary to the crew’s larger arc), Two was now the only main character (out of seven) whose pre- and post-mindwipe selves were sharply different in basic ethics and how they could be expected to vote on any given issue, taking away from the premise. In other words, while it was an interesting idea and reveal in some ways and I see what they were trying to do there, I think in other ways it was mistake for him not to be Jace Corso (or at least a clone thereof, so it could play with the identity and nature vs. nurture themes; as it stands, they’re not even related, and only look alike because of plastic surgery, which isn’t a real connection).