I’m constantly on the lookout for good sci-fi TV shows. I grew up regularly watching Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Dr Who. I love the imaginative and/or expansive stories sci-fi allows, so I’m always willing to give a new show a try.
Recently I started watching Dark Matter, a new show on the US Syfy channel that has been garnering a few good reviews. I didn’t like it and only watched 3 episodes before stopping. This is very unusual for me, normally I will go through an entire season. However, in this case it seemed very unlikely the show could recover – plus there is so much other great TV to watch. The acting ranged from acceptable (most of the leads) to poor (most of the guests), but the characters were cliched (quiet Asian martial arts expert prefers swords to guns – tired) as was the dialogue and plots. I found myself calling out what would be said next – and was correct way too often. It also seemed to be produced at a very small scale. The main spaceship was dark and empty, as were planets and stations. In my opinion the show is not very good, or is it?
After considering it for a while, I decided that if this TV show aired 15 years ago during the Star Trek: Next Generation, Bablyon 5 and Stargate: SG1 era, I would have considered it as quite good. I certainly would have given it much longer to prove itself. Both Babylon 5 & Stargate had the same just acceptable level of acting, plots and production at the start. Star Trek TNG was actually bad for its first season. However, they all grew into great shows. I have particularly fond memories of the episodes Chain of Command from Star Trek and Severed Dreams from Babylon 5. Dark Matter would stand up well against the early seasons of those shows. What has changed?
Well TV, including sci-fi TV has gotten much better, and shows have to be good from the start now to even have a hope of success. Battlestar Galactica started with the incredibly good episode “33” (although I still pretend the last season and a half never happened). Game of Thrones and The Expanse similarly started with well-polished episodes and a strong story. There is no time to get writers up to speed and let actors grow into their characters. Showmakers’ need to know where the story is going from the start. Production quality has also greatly increased. Presumably with a corresponding increase in cost, although perhaps not with current CGI techniques.
All this is a long way of saying, I am still regularly amazed at the quality of modern TV. The competition is so good a show like Dark Matter feels very dated and behind the times. A show I might have loved not long ago is now a fast reject.