‘Dark Matter’ Season 1: A Case for Cliches

Let’s take a moment to talk about clichés. Clichés frequently get a bad rap, as if their use in fiction is automatically a black mark against the story in question. The truth is, though, that most shows build off of stereotypical character molds, especially early on, as a familiar shorthand that can be used to quickly acclimate viewers to its world. That’s not to say original character types aren’t ever introduced in pilot episodes, but first outings from shows are usually going to feature some familiar types.

Enter Dark Matter, a show that not only features stereotypical characters, but draws attention to this fact by giving us a cast of characters that all serve as amnesiac blank slates. These are individuals entirely defined by the broadest aspects of their personalities because that’s all they have left. In turn, the only sense we get of them in the premiere is on the basis of familiar character types. Again, this isn’t an inherently bad thing, as it allows us to get a quick read on the crew of the ship.

The bigger question, however, is how long the show will take to flesh the characters out beyond these clichéd protrayals. A good show, like Farscape or Babylon 5, will quickly begin to develop the relationships, explore unique character pairings and give us deeper understanding of the people we’re watching every week. A bad show, well… it usually gets cancelled.

And that’s the challenge Dark Matter currently faces, one that it needs to address doubly quick given just how generic its characters are. That’s not to say the actors don’t give it their all, but they aren’t given much to work with in the first place. On a quick roll call, the show gives us a well-intentioned lead hero, a pragmatic female partner, a stoic warrior with over-the-top fighting skills and a greedy loner only looking out for himself. Oh, and let’s not forget the ship’s android, who’s one pet cat away from just being Data from Star Trek.

Again, this is all well and good if the characters can evolve from where they are right now. For a pilot episode about characters finding themselves in a mysterious situation, you’ll often see plot prioritized over characterization. Does this lead to some eye-rolling moments that fall too far into the stereotypical? Definitely, given that it’s of course the Asian character that ends up an expert with katanas. But it works for the moment, and the ending twist, that everyone on the ship is a career criminal, promises the chance for some interesting character moments as soon as next week.