What would you do if you found yourself in an alternate life? Like the Talking Heads song “Once in a Lifetime”, you’d be making insane observations. This isn’t my beautiful house. This isn’t my beautiful wife. How did I get here? That’s exactly what happens to Jason Essen, our lead character (or characters?) in the new Apple TV+ show Dark Matter. A show about a man who ends up in an alternate timeline of his life. One where he will have to find a way back after a version of himself has taken over.

Dark Matter is a new sci-fi thriller for Apple TV+. Originally a novel by Blake Crouch in 2016, Crouch has adapted his popular book for the screen. As executive producer and showrunner, he and Sony have cooked up delicious meal. Jason Essen, played by Joel Edgerton, has a wonderful life. He has a beautiful wife (Jennifer Connelly) and son (Oakes Fegley) with a great job. Unfortunately for him, he is about to be kidnapped. When he awakes, he finds a world that is slightly off. No longer is he married, nor does he have any children. It’s up to him, along with help from others like Alice Braga’s Amanda, to figure out the mystery at foot.

Dark Matter is a Neo-Noir Sci-Fi Thriller feels like all of those labels at once

Dark Matter excels in using its backdrop of Chicago like a neo-noir setting. While the subject matter of quantum physics and alternate realities is futuristic, the story plays like a Humphrey Bogart mystery. The bar Jason frequents lights up with neon in the dark, rainy night. From the jump, this story feels familiar. I think that comfort is what keeps it thrilling. Just as I’d get too comfortable, Crouch’s writing would throw me a curveball I wasn’t expecting. In fact, I jumped out of my seat at the end of the second episode, “Trip of a Lifetime”.

Adapting a book is always a challenge and it’s never going to satisfy everyone. It’s why Crouch opted to make this show himself. His book series, Wayward Pines, was adapted into a series back in 2015, and while many agree that the first season is great, the follow up second season left a lot to be desired. I personally haven’t read the 2016 novel, but from seeing this show, I’d be interested in picking it up. 

Dark Matter doesn’t forget about the humanity in science fiction

Sci-fi can go multiple ways, especially with quantum physics. It can get bogged down in the science of it all. Luckily this story doesn’t get deep into how you jump between timelines. It’s more interested in telling a human story. It asks its audience to think about their own lives. If you could go back and change something, would you? Would you choose a family life over your career? That idea, in and of itself, is premise enough for the show. I appreciated that. Yes, there are some conversations about science, but it never feels like the show halts it’s momentum to explain anything. That could also come down to my investment in Joel Edgerton’s performance.

Edgerton is a major highlight of the show. He is playing two versions of himself. This isn’t exactly a Prince and Pauper situation necessarily. He’s portraying Jason if he had made different choices. That means the mannerisms and personality are similar, but there are subtle differences between the two versions that stand out. Each of them knows their background. They know who they used to be. They just have to learn who they are in the timelines they’re in. It might sound confusing, but the layout of the show helps. There are clear divides to what timeline you are in thanks to a sound effect. The “evil” version of himself is a bit more conniving. He’s quick on his feet. Meanwhile the Jason we are rooting for is slow to understand the world he is in. He plays things more innocently. He is innocent after all.

Jennifer Connelly is Dark Matter’s dark horse

Connelly’s Daniela Dessen is also someone to watch. She’s smart and clever in ways I didn’t expect. In both of Jason’s worlds, she steals the screen. There is an attractive quality to Connelly’s performance that makes you want to know more about her. Whether she’s in an art gallery or playing mom, I feel like I want to see more of her. She adds way more to the show than she will ever get credit for.

Jimmi Simpson also pops up as a friend of the Dessens and he is somehow gripping in everything he does. If you like Simpson in Psych or Westworld, he delivers more of the goods here. He is charming and unsuspecting. The perfect kind of actor for a thriller where you question everything.

Dark Matter feels like a novel turned TV show

I only have one gripe with the show. While Crouch is running the show, it’s clear he is a novelist first and filmmaker second. The show is mostly conversational. While a majority of the dialogue is fantastic, I did find myself drifting away from the show on a few occasions because it got a bit wordy. Where there was too much dialogue, there could have been movement. I don’t mean I needed some big action sequence. I just needed the characters to go for a walk or to be doing something else. It doesn’t happen often, but I did notice when the show felt like it was slowing down.

Regardless of the slow downs, Dark Matter is fantastically written and intoxicating to watch. Rarely do I binge watch shows. Dark Matter is one I’d gladly give up a weekend for. Luckily for audiences, they’ll get the first two episodes right away.

Dark Matter premieres on May 8th, 2024 on Apple+.

To hear more about Dark Matter from Blake Crouch and producer Matt Tolmach, check out my interview. Keep up with all of the latest news and reviews in the film world by checking out more from That Hashtag Show.