Summer might be the best time of the year for a lot of things, but for television, it’s probably the worst. To put it simply, people have better things to do with their lives than sit inside in front of a TV this time of year. Because of viewer’s reluctance to tune in, most TV Networks save their best shows for the Fall or Spring, when more people will actually watch. However, due to the constraints of a capitalism, TV channels can’t just go dark for three months out of the year. So they air different types of shows that cater more towards summer audiences. In TV land, Summer isn’t the time to make viewers think. Summer is the time to take a risk on a show, have some fun, and, most importantly, entertain the audience.
SyFy’s new space adventure series Killjoys is the perfect embodiment of this concept. The show isn’t the going to blow audiences away with impressive production values, award-winning performances, or spectacular writing, nor does it really have to. Killjoys isn’t trying to convey a deeper truth about humanity within its story, nor is it exploring the human condition or critiquing modern society through science fiction.
Killjoys is only concerned with doing one thing: Entertaining the viewer. And, as a viewer myself, I have to say: They’re doing a damn good job.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, which is probably most of you, Killjoys follows a trio of hard-living but fun-loving bounty hunters taking on interplanetary missions, chasing and capturing deadly criminals throughout a distant planetary system named the Quad. In other words, our heroes are the sheriffs who are out to capture the criminals in the lawless, wild, wild, wilderness of a distant galaxy.
Killjoys runs on a simple and familiar formula: Every episode the team receives the name of someone that they must bring into the Company (That’s the organization that employs all of the Killjoys, there really isn’t a government in this world). Once they get the name, the team travels to a distant planet, finds the target, and captures them. There’s action sequences, witty banter, and tons of cool world-building and character work done along the way, but the plot structure of the show is incredibly simple.
The simplicity of Killjoys storytelling style is one of it’s biggest assets. The show’s initial premise is pretty outlandish and unfamiliar to audiences, so expecting a casual viewer to quickly understand and connect to the the world of Killjoys is pretty unrealistic. This is especially true during the summer when people, understandably I should add, aren’t willing to put in much effort to immerse themselves in a show. Killjoys‘ formula, on the other hand, is incredible easy to understand and connect to. The concept of bounty hunters or the good guys chasing down the bad guys is something nearly everyone is familiar with, and therefore is easy to latch on to, even if it is happening in outer space.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece delving into the revolutionary story structure employed by Game Of Thrones and Sense8. That post is admittedly pretty dense, because those shows are telling complex, fascinating stories in new and interesting ways, so really doing a thorough job of analyzing those programs took time and careful thought. The point I’m making is that those shows both require significant investment from the audience, because the worlds that they created are not only vast and hard to fully grasp, but are also vital to the audience’s enjoyment of the show. This is something that is nearly impossible to pull off successfully in the summer.
Take Game Of Thrones for example. Every spring, the pop culture world comes together and engrosses itself into the world of Westeros. The show is the subject of countless internet discussions and in person conversations for ten weeks straight. While the phenomenon is fun in the spring time, it’s hard to imagine the population at large doing the same thing in the middle of July. I’m not saying Game of Thrones wouldn’t be popular if it aired in the Summer, but I doubt that it becomes the pop culture juggernaut it is today when it’s competing with trips to the beach, fireworks displays, vacations and other fun summer actvities for audience’s attention. For Game of Thrones to achieve the success that it has, viewers have to be thinking about the show after the final credits roll, and it is exponentially easier for them to do that when the audience heads to work or school the next day rather than vacation.
What makes a show like Game Of Thrones ill-fit for the summer though, is exactly what makes Killjoys perfect for it. While Killjoys is on screen, viewers are swept up in a fun, entertaining ride that makes them laugh and yell out in surprise. Each episode is a thrilling little adventure with memorable and endlessly watchable characters. When the credits roll and the episode is over though, its over. My Dad and I are both huge fans of the show, but most of our post-episode analysis is along the lines of:
“Yeah, I’m really starting to like this show”
“Me too… Wanna grab some dinner?”
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. For me, Summer TV is all about fun and entertainment, but it’s got to be disposable. What I mean by that is most people don’t spend their time at the beach or at an amusement park talking about what happened on TV last night, so a series must be undertsood and enjoyed without much effort from the audience. Killjoys knows this, and is firing on all cylinders because it’s not reaching to be anything more than itself.
The biggest compliment I can give Killjoys is that it’s probably my favorite pure science fiction show since Joss Whedon’s Firefly (Which, if you haven’t seen, is on Netflix now and is absolutely worth your time). The two shows share a lot of traits, but calling Killjoys the next Firefly doesn’t do either show much justice. The best way to think about it is the two shows tell pretty different stories in very similar ways.
Killjoys is a step below Firefly, but it’s not as big of a step as one might think. Killjoys has the banter and tone of Firefly pretty much down, and is steadily catching up the world building capabilities of Firefly as well. The two series both blended science fiction and western sensibilities with astonishing grace and ease. Even though Killjoys will most likely live a much longer life on the air, both shows fly pretty far under the radar of the casual TV viewer.
Killjoys is also doing a spectacular job quietly building tension and raising the stakes as it barrels toward the end of the first season. The show is a procedural, first and foremost, most stories are pretty neatly wrapped up each week. But, the show is leaving interesting breadcrumbs behind each week, presumably because they have something big in store for the finale. Right now, the show is keeping it’s cards close to the chest, only giving brief hints at where it’s going, but I am very excited to see Killjoys finally play its hand.
To me, this is one of the biggest factors that seperates Killjoys from other SyFy originals and most shows on this summer. There’s an impressive amount of restraint and patience being showed by the writing staff in regards to setting up the season’s endgame. It’s quietly building in the background, slowly but surely, but it never detracts from plot of each episode. Strking that balance is much easier said than done, and right now Killjoys is making it look effortless.
Killjoys isn’t the masterpiece that Firefly is by any stretch of the imagination. The show inexplicably capped itself at three main characters, none of whom are nearly as memorable as the crew of the Serenity. They each serve a narrative purpose, and compliment each other nicely, but adding a couple more team members could elevate Killjoys from being good, to being great.
But that’s a minor grievance for a show that I really don’t have many negative things to say about. If you want a show that will make you laugh, keep you on the edge of your seat, and is doing some impressive sci fi world building in the process, I cannot recommend Killjoys enough. Or, if you just want to escape the summer heat for a while and relax, Killjoys might just be the best option you have this summer.
Killjoys airs Fridays at 9:00 on SyFy.
Episodes from Season 1 are available online at Syfy.com.
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far! I’ve been very busy writing for other outlets this summer, but the blog should be getting updated at least once a month for the foreseeable future now.