Intergalactic stories have always been popular in the science fiction genre. Star Wars and Star Trek are of course the most well-known and successful, and there are countless books with spaceships and galaxies as their settings. In the past 20 years however, two television shows have explored the final frontier in both similar and different ways, their successes being largely dependent on the different circumstances of their times.
I tend to be hesitant to compare two shows despite their similarities, often because there tends to be a large difference in the circumstances of their creation. While Dark Matter and Firefly are similar on the surface – they are both stories largely set on spaceships run by outlaws running from and eventually fighting back against the corporate-run galaxy – they are still very different because of timing, the network they were/are on, the tones of the shows, and the amount of time they were/are on. I love both shows, but it’s been interesting to watch Dark Matter progress. While I don’t think the two are exactly the same, Dark Matter often feels to me like Firefly 2016.
Firefly came out in 2003 and was unfortunately canceled after one season. It soon gained a cult following and because of the resurgence of the fanbase, was able to raise enough money to “finish” the story with the movie Serenity in 2005. While the story now continues in comic books, it’s always a sore spot for fans to think about the premature canceling of the show, especially because of all the storylines that were set up in Season 1 that were unable to be developed the way it was originally envisioned. It sucks that we didn’t get more because it’s clear Whedon was setting up for some great stuff but wasn’t actually able to follow through all the way because Fox did what Fox always does. Of course, the show was not without its problematic moments. While it was a great show for the time, there are a few issues when looking back on it. I’ve already spoken about the limited development of Zoe Washburne that pushes her into the stereotypes of the Strong Black Woman, but the show is also riddled with this weird masculine performance between Mal and Wash in regards to Zoe, and the show also pulls from a lot of Chinese culture without really casting any Chinese people.
In a lot of ways Dark Matter is different. Season 1 came out in 2015 on Syfy. The show is a majority POC and female cast and is very woman-centered, allowing them to be full human beings and characters in the same way the white men are. It has become even more so in Season 2 as they got rid a character who to me was the embodiment of the mediocre white dude, replacing him a black woman. The main difference, of course, is that since the show didn’t get cancelled after only one season, the writers of Dark Matter have been able to further many of the storylines set up in their first season as well as add new characters and layers to the story. As with all storytelling, this allows for them to really delve into aspects and backstories of every member of the crew of the Raza, furthering their development in ways that weren’t possible for the crew of Serenity.
Dark Matter is also much darker than Firefly was which, while it dealt with dangerous adventures and had dark aspects, was able to balance it with comedy and its western theme. In addition to the diversity on screen, the tone of Dark Matter is one of the main reasons I say it’s the Firefly of 2016. We’re in a time where much of our media focuses on and glorifies the dark and gritty. While there is still some space for comedy, and some other shows balance the two well, we are also in a time of Scandal, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Orphan Black, all different in terms of premise, but which all have aspect of gore and intensity. Dark Matter fits right in with that.
Dark Matter is able to explore dimensional travel, memory loss, corporate greed, and many other themes that Firefly seemed to be getting ready to explore had it had more time. While these are themes that have been and no doubt continue to be explored in science fiction, the similarities between Dark Matter and Firefly are interesting, especially when considering the different times in which they were created. Both shows have their merit and are done well, but 2003 and 2016 are very different, as are Fox and Syfy, and as a result Dark Matter has been able to be much more successful.