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Initially Promising Dark Matter Sinks Under Weight of Prestige TV Bloat

There’s a decent movie buried in the bloated “Dark Matter,” the latest expensive venture from the good folks at Apple TV+, a streamer that's developed something of an identity as a platform for adult sci-fi with shows like “Silo,” “Constellation,” “Invasion,” and more. The problem is that, once again, a good idea has been stretched far past its breaking point, resulting in a show that spins its wheels so much that you’ll get dizzy trying to stay engaged. Characters repeat themselves simply to stretch runtime, and the whole project lacks the urgency needed to maintain the tension inherent in the story of a man whose life is stolen. Stars Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly do their best, but even these talented performers struggle to keep the stakes elevated over the length of a nine-episode season. I know I’m becoming a bit of a broken record by saying over and over again that a TV series is the wrong length, but it’s an epidemic, and “Dark Matter” is a perfect example of the problem.

Based on the book by Blake Crouch, “Dark Matter” opens promisingly. The always-good and often-great Edgerton plays Jason Dessen, a Chicago-based physicist with a loving wife named Daniela (Connelly) and a teen son named Charlie (Oakes Fegley). As he celebrates the announcement that his buddy Ryan (Jimmi Simpson) has just won the Pavia Prize, one can sense a little wondering about what could have been behind Jason’s eyes. He’s clearly made some career sacrifices to be a family man, and while regret may be a strong word, we all wonder what might have been if we hadn’t put down roots with a partner and children. Jason’s kind of going to find out.

Of course, a show like this needs to explain Schrodinger’s Cat again, which Jason does in one of his classes, foreshadowing a program wherein two things will be possible simultaneously. After celebrating with Ryan one night and getting a job offer to join him on his next project in San Francisco, Jason is walking home when he’s kidnapped … by himself. Jason2 (also Edgerton, of course) drugs Jason and puts him in a box, sending him across the multiverse to an alternate existence in which Dessen made a different choice at a crucial point in his life. 

Fifteen years ago, when Daniela told him she was pregnant, Jason2 chose work over family. Now, having developed a technology to travel to alternate universes, he wants to see the road not taken. While Jason2 takes the place of the original, the “real” Jason is forced to try to find a way back to his reality, leading to some real “Inception”-esque chaos in the mid-section of the season as he travels (with Alice Braga’s Amanda) across a very different version of the multiverse than Marvel ever imagined.

Edgerton delineates the “family Jason” from the “career Jason” with very smart, nuanced choices. We come to believe that fifteen years of being a husband and father have sanded some of the sharp edges of the version of Jason that chose physics instead. The scenes in which Jason2 crams information about friends he should know well are interesting, a study of a man pretending to be a different version of himself. I imagine it’s pretty heady on the page: a philosophical study of the multiverse concept designed to illuminate the human condition instead of saving the world. And Edgerton is more than up to the challenge, ably assisted by a typically strong Connelly and always interesting Simpson.

The problem with “Dark Matter” simply comes down to length and what that does to the writing and direction. Episodes run a full hour and feel twice as long. Characters are forced to repeat themes and plot points in ways that feel like treading water. Even when the midsection of the season should be ramping up the action with Jason opening doors to post-apocalyptic visions of a Chicago that might have been, the show’s creators struggle to keep the stakes heightened. And the near complete lack of an episodic structure feels draining in that the whole show feels like one very long movie. 

I want to travel to the alternate universe where that’s not such a common problem with modern television. I bet "Dark Matter" is a killer indie movie in one of them.

Six episodes screened for review. It premieres on Apple TV+ on May 8th.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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