Airdate: June 19, 2015
Directed by: Chris Grismer
Showrunners: Michelle Lovretta
Written by: Michael Foster (story editor), Michelle Lovretta (story, as M.A. Lovretta), Michelle Lovretta (creator)
If you were to walk by your television while the opening shots of the new Syfy Channel/Space Channel co-produced original series, Killjoys, were showing – what with blowing sand, a stark tan color palette, and a quick screen tag naming the place as the “Badlands” – you could be forgiven for thinking that Syfy (Space in Canada) was showing a rerun of Joss Whedon’s Firefly. And while the comparisons aren’t really fair, considering provenance and funding, they are inevitable. No, Killjoys is not, nor is it ever likely to be, Firefly, but what it looks like it might be is yet another in a string of more-than-serviceable entertaining original series that Syfy has been producing over the last couple of years. Click through for my review of the series premiere episode which aired earlier tonight.
<<Spoiler Alert: This review will discuss plot points from tonight's episode of Killjoys. Read on – if you dare!>>
So, no, it isn’t that other rogues-in-space show. It does have sinister faceless entities (The Corporation, the RAC – the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition) which don’t get much exposition here, but are presumably being set-up as part of the worldbuilding effort. Dutch [Hannah John-Kamen] and John [Aaron Ashmore] are a pair of Killjoys, bounty hunters that take on contracts from the RAC in order to bring in fugitives and collect bounties. There are five ranks of killjoys, and five commensurate ranks of contracts – Level 5 are the kill contracts, contracts Dutch avoids on principal, even though she could take them – she’s a Level 5, whereas her partner, John, is a Level 3.
The cold open has John being tortured by a couple of thugs, and Dutch being brought in as a captive. When one of the thugs, encouraged by his slimy boss, takes her aside to assault her, she reveals a hidden stun gun, and proceeds to take him and his partner out. Dutch and John are coldly efficient, sharing a few quips along the way. While this is intended to establish them as an effective and well-oiled team, there is a lot of info-dumping with no real context, leaving me a bit cold to begin.
This teamwork aspect is almost immediately undermined when John, using Dutch’s Level 5 clearance, takes on a contract without informing her. He’s on a ship filled with indentured fighters (how he gets there is glossed over), his quarry in an electrified fighting cage. Turns out its his brother, and they have a long history – mostly of not talking with each other.
Dutch tracks John down, and arrives in time to find that there’s another killjoy on the job – Fancy Lee, played with a bit of Dirk Dastardly glee by Sean Baek. Informed by John who the target, D’aven [Luke Macfarlane], actually is, Dutch makes a snap decision to save him from Fancy, and gets herself into a load of trouble with the RAC (and presumably, the mysterious Corporation).
The episode plays out following fairly predictable science fiction tropes – cool gadgets (especially Dutch’s necklace, which transforms into a bunch of explosive robotic spiders), exotic locations (which all look fairly Earth-like), a cool sleek/dangerous looking spaceship (it looks an awful lot like a smaller version of Starlord’s “Milano” from Guardians of the Galaxy), and incompletely formed pseudo-nefarious bureaucracies (Dutch’s RAC handler tells her he voted for her to be executed for breaking the contract – but he was overruled). None of this bodes particularly ill for the show, although none of it stands out either as something that will make Killjoys rise above your typical run-of-the-mill SF show.
The characters also follow the tropes: Dutch is your kick-ass professional woman with a mysterious past; John is the innocent rogue who is loyal to a fault; his brother D’aven (yes, he’s definitely going to be joining the team) is the dark, brooding, beefcake who is being setup as a) a love interest for Dutch and b) a rival to his brother; Khylen [Rob Stewart] is a part-time deus ex machina/mentor from Dutch’s past, who not only trained her in the fine art of kicking ass, but seems to have been following her in a very creepy Edward Cullen/stalker kind of way (and yet saves the day – yay!); and the aforementioned Fancy Lee and his mustache-twirlingly bad take on bad-badness.
The worldbuilding, which faltered a bit after the opening, does have some promise, much of it in the form of a flashback we experience with a young Dutch [Ava Laferriere] being trained by Khylen, taught how to use a curved blade on a bound man. She’s told that, from time to time, she will be given a red box – one that will contain a gift, but come with a deadly requirement. Predictably, the episode ends with Dutch finding just such a box on her bed. Elsewhere, while the Corporation is just a bit too obtuse for my tastes, the promise of more interesting backstory regarding the RAC (who overruled her handler?), and the Quad – the planet/moon system the show takes place in – gives me hope for the show’s future. The most interesting sidestory regards an impending revolt in the system, based along class-lines. Showrunner Michelle Lovretta and her writers shouldn’t suffer for stories to tell, and there’s a lot of filling-in to do.
There were some fun moments in the opener, and some pretty cool effects. The best for my money, was what I’m calling the Big Zoom: starting with a shot from space, the camera zooms in on the planet, through cloud cover, and in on the location for the next scene. This was, however, overused, and by the fourth or fifth time they did it, I was kind of hoping for a different approach. Dutch’s fight scene in the climax had me both laughing out loud at the ludicrous nature of the fight (a gun battle in a narrow corridor, with no-one getting hit, and Dutch showing up in a Wes Anderson-esque slow-mo walk with her party dress flowing), and smiling at the sheer kick-assedness of her fighting style, as she pulled moves worthy of Trinity, as her exploding spider-necklace surprised the “badguys” (who happened to be police in this case). Space effects were very professional across the board, with some very nice shots of the system, and beauty shots of various ships zooming hither and thither.
Yes, the show is pretty derivative, and yes, it follows the familiar tropes, but familiar isn’t necessarily bad, although derivative will never elevate much beyond mediocre. I enjoyed the opener, and I’ll be giving the show another look over the next few weeks. It’s been picked up for ten episodes, so it’ll have some time to build an audience – and with the niche audience that both Syfy and Space Channel have, I expect that it will do fairly well. And who knows – given enough time and a bit of success, the show may even be given a chance to surprise now and again.
Steve’s Grade: C+
This new entry in the “stylish SF” field from both Syfy and Space Channel doesn’t break any new ground, bringing to mind a host of other programs over the past few years. It is still an entertaining 42 minutes, which should appeal to fans of the genre, while not necessarily winning anyone new over to the SF fold.