Apple TV+’s Dark Matter Falls Flat Next to Its Contemporaries

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Apple TV+’s Dark Matter Falls Flat Next to Its Contemporaries

The worst thing a TV show can be these days is boring. In a landscape that is somehow simultaneously bloated and hollow, boring television is the ultimate insult to even a casual watcher. The merit of good TV does not need to be defended, but even bad TV can make us feel something. Disgust and rage are better reactions to something than indifference or apathy. The era of Peak TV gave us a lot to care about, and even though that media boom has significantly slowed, any TV show that has ever or will ever be made needs people to care about it for it to have any real significance.

Apple TV+’s Dark Matter does not make the cut. The series is adapted from the 2016 Blake Crouch mystery-thriller novel of the same name with Crouch as showrunner, and while I regularly sing the praises of adaptations that actively involve the creator of the source material, Dark Matter does not seem to benefit from Crouch’s leadership in any way. This is not to say that his work on the series is abhorrently unskilled. Adapting a book to the screen is one thing and doing it as the person who wrote the book is another, but any run-of-the-mill mystery-thriller tale should be full of palpable unease and suspense that this series glaringly lacks.

Dark Matter follows Jason Dessen (Joel Edgerton), a physicist who is professionally unfulfilled but who has a loving and stable family life with his wife, Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and teenage son Charlie (Oakes Fegley). After a night out with his friend and professional rival Ryan (Jimmi Simpson), Jason is attacked, kidnapped, and wakes up in an alternate reality where his life went down a completely different trajectory. As cool as alternate realities may seem, the first three episodes of the series fail to bring any excitement to the concept. Instead they serve as a character study for Jason and the other players in his life, something that is wholly uninteresting when the series takes three full episodes before we even make it to the “science” part of the science-fiction elements. Thankfully, Edgerton does a great job portraying different versions of the same character and clearly has a solid grasp on what makes each Jason a unique person, as do Connelly, Simpson, and Dayo Okeniyi with their respective characters. The issue is that these incredibly skilled actors have very little to work with in the 45-60 minute runtime of each episode.

Of the four episodes I watched for this review, the first three were directed by Jakob Verbruggen. Consistency can be a blessing or a curse, and in this case, it’s the latter. Media that spans across multiple realities has to establish a lot of little things at the front of the story so that the audience can point at their screens and say “Hey, that sign was a different color when we saw this place last.” Instead of that foreshadowing attempting to be subtle, it feels like you are being beat over the head with a solid steel beam. The score only makes this issue worse. The eerier accompaniments tell you that something is wrong before you are allowed to naturally catch the vibe, and I cannot decide whether or not the series trusts its viewers to understand what’s happening or if it lacked the ability to stretch and grow beyond the basics of television editing. There is simply no fun in it, and while not every piece of sci-fi media needs to make an active attempt at levity, even the most serious shows can be fun to watch. Dark Matter gives us nothing to grasp at that is not a character study of someone in their ensemble cast, and the entire thing feels like it would have done miles better as a movie.

Generally, I am an advocate for books being adapted into TV shows instead of movies, but most of the books I feel that way about are expansive, lore-heavy epics that need that time to introduce audiences to a multitude of concepts. Dark Matter is short compared to those, and while a movie adaptation always means cutting some of the muscle away with the fat, it is a better alternative to a  nine-episode series that drags for the first third of what it has to offer. It is narratively bloated before the halfway mark of the season, and condensing everything down into a nice, 2-hour film would have served the story, the characters, and the audience better.

Dark Matter is once again proof that you cannot buy good TV. No matter how much money you spend to make a script come to life, it won’t thrive if it’s already DOA. A show looking cool does not matter if it is not actually cool, and this series should be a standard example of that concept. Everything that it offers can be found somewhere more interesting, and we are all better off putting ourselves in front of those pieces of media instead of something that feels uninspired in the way that this show unfortunately does.

If you want to watch something about a guy in a reality warping metal box, you should watch Primer instead. If you were really set on watching a show called Dark Matter, you should take a journey over to SYFY’s gone-too-soon, 3-season-long space opera. If you have already opened Apple TV+, turn on Severance instead. Even with their flaws, all of them are better, more compelling science-fiction than what Dark Matter has to offer.

Dark Matter premieres Wednesday, May 8th on Apple TV+. 

Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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