Syfy’s putting together an entertaining lineup for its adventurous, outer-space action on Friday nights. Starting at 8pm, the third season of fan-favorite series Defiance is already underway, with new premiere Dark Matter bookending the run starting at 10pm (check out Allison’s review of that show here). Smack in the middle of lineup is a new space-based bounty-hunter adventure, Killjoys, from the producers of Orphan Black and the creator of Lost Girl, Michelle Lovretta. With talent like that behind the scenes, Killjoys already sets itself up to be a smart, sexy, female-fronted series, chock full of twists and turns (and tailor-made for social media).
At first blush, Killjoys feels like it takes place in a different corner of Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe, a comparison that’s meant as more of a positive use of homage rather than a knock for being a copycat. There’s a lot of space out there so I see no reason why they can’t co-exist together, and it brings me … serenity … to feel like I’m experiencing new adventures in a familiar environment. What adventures you ask?
The principal characters are bounty hunters known as Killjoys, employees of the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition (RAC) who are tasked with tracking down their marks in order to satisfy a warrant. Bounties range from level one criminals (loan defaults and misdemeanors) to level fives (those deemed dangerous enough to kill on sight). The folks putting up the money behind these bounties are often unidentified, but the biggest customer in the Quad system is the mega-corporate entity known as “the Company.” There are lots of machinations going on behind the scenes of these big-scale entities, which is enough of a hook to push the season-long arcs along, but the real hook is the relationships among the characters themselves.
Hannah John-Kamen stars as Dutch, a highly capable Killjoy with Level 5 clearance who is equal parts deadly, deceptive, and delightful. Much like her partner John (Aaron Ashmore), her own criminal record isn’t exactly clean; unlike him, her backstory is much more developed throughout the early episodes. Where John is more or less summed up as a resourceful thief, Dutch (if that is her real name) has a much more complicated history that involves mysterious assassins, a brutal childhood, and a long-standing rivalry with other high-level Killjoys. John’s character gets a bit more rounded out when he gets word of a new warrant for someone from his past, a man named D’Avin (Luke Macfarlane). But there’s ambiguity as to whether the mark could be the Killjoys’ latest bounty, a dangerous enemy, or a worthwhile asset.
Though the future-set series takes place in a dystopian world where the Company reigns, a resistance forms in its shadow. Slavery persists, but there’s also a lot of beauty to be found. In a style I’ve dubbed “pretty/gritty,” Killjoys spends equal time in the dark and dingy slums, the vibrant bazaar, and the opulent palaces of the rich and famous, and they all look fantastic. Also, it looks like the show’s budget was wisely used to create practical sets, locations and costumes without going over the top for CG extravagances or alien creations. And I absolutely love the snarky spaceship Lucy, voiced by Tamsen McDonough.
The only negative I’ll pick at is a sense of attempting to establish a rich, full universe too quickly at the expense of further developing the interesting arcs the show sets up early on. Dutch’s upbringing is doled out in appropriately bite-sized proportions and D’Avin’s past is similarly metered out, but John’s remains rather shallow. By extension, we get lots of episodic introductions: the Company’s increasingly aggressive moves to thwart a resistance movement that could lead to interplanetary war; a moon reserved for slave labor; a culture of women kept as breeders, who band together to survive; and a fair amount of supporting characters painted in broad strokes to help ease the transition into this new system of worlds. And this is all within the first few episodes.
Killjoys is dense and fast-paced, so if you can keep up with all the exposition and terminology being thrown at you, then you’re in for an enjoyable ride. The on-screen chemistry is fantastic, helped by a kindling love triangle (that will surely inspire a fair amount of shipping, Tumblr accounts, and GIF galleries should the series catch on). Killjoys is a great addition to the Syfy line-up, perfectly placed between the network’s other stand-out space action/dramas, and a worthy heir for Firefly fans to get acquainted with. Consider me locked and served.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Killjoys premieres Friday, June 19th at 9 p.m. on Syfy.