|Lackluster performances and budgetary restrictions mar this otherwise workable science fiction story.|
Killjoys is a Canadian-produced science fiction series that airs concurrently on Canada's Space channel alongside the Syfy network. Its first season aired in 2015, and the second season is right around the corner, so I figured now would be a good time to review this series for anyone who might be interested in jumping on board.
Killjoys chronicles the travails of a team of bounty hunters, formally known as "Reclamation Agents", or less formally as "Killjoys". They live on a shithole planet called Westerly, which is rife with poverty and slave labor and ruled by the iron fist of a malevolent corporate entity simply known as "The Company". Westerly is the perfect place to eke out a living busting thieves, smugglers and criminals of all types. It might not be noble, but it sure beats starvation.
The team consists of Yalena "Dutch" Yardeen, a sly and fearsome lass who can rock a dress as well as she can don her fighting leathers, and John Jaqobis, a neurotic but brilliant engineer. It's all business as usual for them until John discovers a death warrant has been placed on the head of his estranged brother, D'avin. It takes some bribery and finagling to get the warrant revoked, and this paves the way for D'avin to join the team, as his ex-military expertise proves to be a handy asset in the business of bounty hunting. Little do they know that saving him has set in motion a series of events that will involve them in a much larger conspiracy.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but suffice to say that the story has a strong focus on class warfare and the tensions between the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor (a common theme in media these days). The rich 1%ers in Killjoys are noble families who live on the lush and beautiful planet Qresh and look down on the hard-working people of Westerly who serve them, as rich people are wont to do. The seeds of rebellion are being sown on Westerly, however, and the Company is keenly aware of it. Independent contractors like the Killjoys profit off of this tension and are continually being milked for favors by both sides, but they are nevertheless duty-bound to stay neutral. When it comes time to choose a side, however, where will they land?
The story also focuses heavily on Dutch's lingering daddy issues with her previous mentor, Khlyen. He once trained her to become an elegant and efficient assassin, and after years of leaving her alone he inexplicably comes back into her life and starts stalking her. Khlyen is the principal villain of the show, and he has the creepy, overbearing demeanor of an abusive stepdad who just won't go away. Yet, he keeps protecting Dutch and bailing her out whenever she gets into trouble. The relationship between them is one of the most complex threads in the series and is quite interesting (albeit disturbing), although it is somewhat bogged down by actor Rob Stewart's occasionally lackluster performance as Khlyen.
Either way, this is all great stuff, and Killjoys contains all of the ingredients needed for great science fiction, but unfortunately it falls flat in a lot of ways. The dialogue tends to be a little heavy on exposition, and tiny important details are easily forgotten by the time they become relevant many episodes later. It doesn't help that most of the series' side characters are simply not interesting enough to remember or care about.
Another problem is that the show doesn't take itself seriously enough. Some really dark topics are touched upon, and yet the dialogue too often relies on weak humor to break the tension. When atrocities are happening before the character's eyes, their first instinct seems to be to make a sarcastic comment intended to elicit a chuckle. Sometimes this works, but often it does not. Thus, Killjoys seems to have a split personality. It wants to tell an important story, but it pulls its punches just enough to trivialize itself.
Killjoys' lofty world-building is also severely limited by its budget. There are some impressive CGI sequences, but most of the on-site locations are obviously derived from pre-existing present-day structures. Warehouses are used often as sets, for example, and we're supposed to believe that they're the decks of spaceships and starbases. It is simply unconvincing.
This is a common problem with televised science fiction, though. Big budgets are rarely available for the genre due to its limited audience, and the end product usually suffers as a result. I hoped that Killjoys would be different; after all, it is produced by Temple Street Productions, the same people who produced the critically acclaimed Orphan Black, and I expected a similar level of quality. Unfortunately, Killjoys does not reach those heights; it does not even come close. This is a shame, because there's a lot of wasted potential here.
The series' saving grace is Hannah John-Kamen's performance as Dutch. She convincingly portrays her character as a deeply layered and conflicted woman who is as much a sly, powerful badass as she is vulnerable and compassionate. There is also a subtly noticeable progression of her character throughout the series; in the beginning she is spritely, energetic and confident, but by the end (after a lot of bad things have happened to her and her team), the stress of her burdens visibly weighs upon her. She has to keep things together because she's the leader of her team, but you can tell that she's crumbling inside. This kind of nuance can be hard to accomplish, but John-Kamen's performance always manages to be spot-on.
It is also worth mentioning that she did most of her own stunts herself, which is quite impressive considering that brutal hand-to-hand combat scenes occur in almost every episode. Watching her kick ass and then seamlessly resume her acting chops is quite a sight to behold.
The verdict on Killjoys is that it's not all bad, and that's actually pretty good when compared to the plethora of absolutely awful science fiction shows shows out there. The new season drops on July 8th, so if you're a fan of science fiction it's worth a look.
If not, please resume your regular primetime viewing.
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