Saturday, August 29, 2015

Defiance And Dark Matter: And Now We Wait

SyFy Friday, a now relative staple and highlight of the SyFy channel, concluded its summer run with two of its headlining original series.

Both the season finale of Defiance (2013-present) and Dark Matter (2015-present) come to a close. And now the ever-pressing and much anticipated question of renewals arrives that haunts many a television fanatic.

If I was a betting man---and I'm not really, nor a very good one---based on the channel's recent track record and renewed interest and general commitment to putting the sci-fi back in SyFy, I believe both Dark Matter and Defiance will likely return. These are two impressively built, richly detailed, handsome series which clearly have more stories to tell.

Most exciting is how visually unique and different both Defiance and Dark Matter are from one another. They are also striking and refreshingly different on the basis of their science fiction story concepts. Taken together, SyFy Friday is essentially a winning combination at the moment with room to grow.

The Season Three finale of Defiance brings back an allusion to Johnny Cash and Jackson in the final minutes. It's also a pleasure to see Defiance moving from strength to strength not only in its wildly bizarre reality but in layering those stories with more original pop songs as noted in a post on the music of Defiance here. The Season Three finale closes beautifully with some of the most original, wondrous and vivid imagery of outer space ever committed to science fiction television to date. It's going to look amazing on Blu-Ray. The closing track is a stunning beauty offering a rendition of David Bowie's Everyone Says Hi from Heathen (2002), an album which ironically includes a song called I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship. You'll understand the allusion to Grant Bowler and the Omec spaceship if you watched the Defiance Season Three finale, Upon The March We Fittest Die.

Meanwhile, elsewhere and later that evening, we relish the dark delights of Dark Matter. While this is yet another interesting sci-fi project, the series space-based setting reminds me of Stargate Universe (2009-2011) minus the flawless production design. It also makes me realize how spoiled we were by the beauty and elegance of SGU.

Nevertheless, Dark Matter stands on its own as another fine entry into sci-fi genre television with even a touch of a nod to Glen Morgan and James Wong's ephemeral Space: Above And Beyond (1995-1996). Like that latter series, Dark Matter is grittier and much less precious in its production values. Though they may not be up to the SGU standard they are still mighty damn good. SGU was technically perfect in its cinematography and effects work. Dark Matter simply just isn't THAT good. It has its moments but is a much nastier, leaner, meaner beast. Though not SGU in its visual acuity and sophistication it is nevertheless quite exceptional and of clear vision in its mission for SyFy and far superior to a show like Caprica (2010) and more in step with the kind of qualities that defined the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) as a successful, epic space saga. But I've been truly spoiled by SGU of late. While I adore Defiance for defiantly and successfully delivering a science fiction story like no other in recent memory, Dark Matter has great potential. These are two series with winning production values and quality writing.

But why the comparisons between Dark Matter and SGU? That seems a little unfair. And you wouldn't be wrong to think that. But, the truth is the two aforementioned space yarns share the Stargate DNA if you will. The lure to both series by fans of the Stargate franchise would be only natural.

Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) ran for ten seasons, the brain child of writers/producers Brad Wright (Seasons 1-10), Jonathan Glassner (Seasons 1-3) and Robert C. Cooper (Seasons 5-10; though he was a writer for all ten seasons). Producers/writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie (Seasons 8-10) teamed up for the equally intelligent and strong final years of that first franchise that added Farscape (1999-2003) alum Claudia Black and Ben Browder to the mix.

Cooper and Wright created Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) and ran concurrently at the time with Moore's Battlestar Galactica, again two noteworthy series with unique science fiction visions for their respective mythologies and worlds. Both Wright and Cooper teamed with Mullie and Mallozzi as well as Carl Binder and Martin Gero for production chores on Stargate Atlantis for its five season run.

When SGU was born as yet another brain child of Cooper and Wright, Mullie and Mallozzi were on board for the Destiny's run and penned eleven remarkable episodes of that series. Gero, Binder and others also contributed. Sadly, SGU ended prematurely after just two seasons.

So what would be next for these creative, fertile minds?

For Mullie and Mallozzi the two struck out on their own beginning with a comic book called Dark Matter (2012). Though intended for TV all along Mullie and Mallozzi penned a four issue limited series for Dark Horse Comics to lay a foundation as a selling point.

Dark Matter was ultimately picked up by SyFy for a thirteen episode Season One order, but this time Mullie and Mallozzi were the creators of their very own series instead of Cooper and Wright. Again, in some ways Mallozzi and Mullie echoed the pioneering sci-fi spirit Morgan and Wong pursued with Space: Above And Beyond following many years of writing, production and show runner work on The X-Files (1993-2002). When Space: Above And Beyond dissolved the two returned to Chris Carter's intelligent and familiar world with Millennium (996-1999).

Though Dark Matter shares many of the same faces and creative people behind the genius of the Stargate franchise this thing is very much a wholly original series. Dark Matter is something of a win-win for both fans of new science fiction and fans of the Stargate franchise. Dark Matter, while not as seemingly painstakingly detailed in execution as the seemingly flawless SGU (emphasized by the mesmerizing score of Joel Goldsmith), is still akin to something like a handsome, but dangerous little brother. Dark Matter is underscored more appropriately by the more driving style of composer Benjamin Pinkerton.

Obvious writing chores for Dark Matter fall to Mallozzi and Mullie, but there are others. Gero and Cooper both deliver scripts. And not only does Dark Matter star Jodelle Ferland who featured in an episode of Stargate SG-1 (Flesh And Blood) and then later in an adorably devilish role for Stargate Atlantis (Harmony), but even Amanda Tapping steps in behind the camera on directing chores along with Stargate mainstay Martin Wood who had a significant directorial role on both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Not sure where he was for SGU. Andy Mikita brings his massive Stargate resume (all three versions of the franchise) to the Dark Matter finale.

Meanwhile on Dark Matter there are genre-related appearances by David Hewlett (Stargate Atlantis), Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and even Torri Higginson (Stargate Atlantis) who was viciously sidelined to Replicator heaven on SGA.

While all very interesting, admittedly, for me (I'm a geek that way), known faces from previous franchises, while perhaps great geek stuff (and I would never vote against it), tends to take me out of the moment. It almost works as a distraction against a series establishing its own original atmosphere and mood. I'm living in that world I don't need to be reminded of the other franchises. While I would never want to begrudge a job to Wil Wheaton, I should think other options could be better for Dark Matter.

The appearance of Stargate veterans on SGU, while a delight and nice mind you, rarely added that much for me. I was happily lost in space with this new crew. Richard Dean Anderson---I love you like a brother---but not necessary. It's always the original casting and unfamiliar faces that serve the work best in science fiction stories. Unknowns tend to make the material more credible. It's like Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978) and its casting of Brad Davis. Without a star you can believe the story unraveling before your eyes is authentic and real. The moment a face as familiar as Tom Cruise arrives, or in sci-fi TV like Wheaton or Hewlett, it can be jarring and genuinely remove me from the moment. At least, regardless of science fiction street cred or respect to those that have come before, a villain other than Wheaton may have been welcomed. Think the late Leonard Nimoy on Fringe (2008-2013). Still, these are minor and generally insignificant tribbles, rather quibbles.

But the cast for Dark Matter is as uniformly good and appropriately appealing for that story as the cast is for Defiance. The production qualities on both series are generally exceptional at credibly bringing to life the vision and worlds of both Mullie and Mallozzi and Kevin Murphy and Rockne S. O'Bannon respectively.

And Dark Matter's ship, the Raza, is no Destiny, but it is generally impressive with interesting jump technology and tech in general.

And now Friday nights are clear. With Dark Matter Season One over and Defiance Season Three concluded we sit, we wait and we wonder what will be.

It's easy to see where science fiction fans might like one show over the other too. They are very different, but both should be embraced for their differences and supported to endorse SyFy for its efforts in bringing quality science fiction back to the TV table. These are both special shows generated for original science fiction programming. I'm on board to support them both. Hopefully you are and hopefully SyFy will be too.

My money is on renewals. I'm kind of a glass is half full guy like that. At least, I pray that glass isn't empty when I reach into the fridge and prepare to read those forthcoming announcements. Fingers crossed that my glass-is-half-full optimism supersedes my betting credentials. At least I hope to get it right this time.

Update 8/30/2015: On 8/29 Showrunner Kevin Murphy noted uncertainty for the future of Defiance and a Season Four renewal. This isn't a good sign. Though I remain optimistic, I should think there is more optimism for Dark Matter's chances. Still, it would be a shame to see Defiance cut down at just three seasons. That would place two of the very best series, Defiance and Hannibal (2013-2015), in good but unfortunate company this year.

Meanwhile, Joseph Mallozzi is still awaiting word on Dark Matter, but has assured all interested parties that he has a very vivid five year plan for the series.

Update 9/2/2015: Good news for Dark Matter fans. On Sep 1 Dark Matter was renewed for Season Two by SyFy. Killjoys was renewed for Season Two. No word on Defiance and not exactly good news on that front. We can take solace in the fact there has been no official cancellation at this point. We wait some more.

Update 9/6/2015: Still waiting. Hoping the smart men and women are at the table hammering out a way forward. I'm preparing for the worst. Defiance (2013-present) became a great solution to the sci-fi void opened by the loss of SGU (2009-2011) for many. I expect The Expanse (2015) would very much fill that void for me in 2015 if Defiance is not given the go ahead. I am extremely enthusiastic about the Thomas Jane-helmed series. I've always been a fan of the star from The Mist (2007) and Hung (2009-2011). But, if Defiance is given a green light, can you imagine a SyFy world that included Defiance, Dark Matter and The Expanse among others. It's almost too much to take. Somebody wake me.

Update 9/21/2015: Still waiting. Not encouraged. Still hopeful. Yet I marvel at the dreck on television that is renewed.

Update 10/14/2015: SyFy cancels Dominion on this date. Is that good news or bad news for Defiance? One might think it more promising for Defiance, but again, we wait. Crickets. T-t-t-today junior!

Update 10/16/2015: Defiance is cancelled by SyFy. Schtako! It's a shame to see this wonderfully colorful universe of characters come to a close. I'm sorry to see the series go.

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