‘Dark Matter’ becomes the latest show with a bad case of multiverse madness

“Dark Matter” takes another plunge into the madness of multiverses, operating on a more cerebral and down-to-earth level than the superhero epics that have explored it, from the “Doctor Strange” sequel to “The Flash.” After an intriguing start, though, this Apple TV+ series merely sheds additional light on the difficulties of this narrative conceit, in what becomes a rather tedious contemplation of choices and roads not taken.

Adapted by author Blake Crouch (whose page-to-TV credits include “Wayward Pines”) from his novel, the story centers on Jason Dessen (“The Boys in the Boat’s” Joel Edgerton, living out the actorly dream of playing multiple versions of the same character), a physicist/professor seemingly living an idyllic life with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and teenage son (Oakes Fegley, who in his even-younger days fought “The War With Grandpa”).

Suddenly, Jason is not only abducted but replaced by a version of himself, having conjured a box that allows him to navigate between multiverses and an infinite assortment of possibilities, altered – sometimes dramatically, others almost imperceptibly – by individual choices and pivotal moments.

Why this has happened – and what Jason can do to reclaim his life – presents what is at first an intriguing mystery, as well as a rumination on how one decision here or there can change our personal trajectory and relationships, coupled with broader questions of what the future might collectively hold.

Jennifer Connelly in "Dark Matter." - Apple
Jennifer Connelly in "Dark Matter." - Apple

Once all that is established, though, “Dark Matter” becomes less provocative over the course of its nine episodes, while embarking on a perhaps unavoidable series of tangents and detours that don’t accomplish much more than killing time as Jason tries to work his way back home.

The main problem, which nags at this entire subgenre of science fiction, is the sense that nothing really matters, since every new door/chapter – with doors that literally lead into alternate universes – feels as if it’s just a step away from being rewritten or undone. As those scenarios and “what ifs” pile up, Jason’s plight becomes as disorienting for the viewer as it is for him.

“Dark Matter” also has an overtly sentimental side in its rumination on what’s important in life, which skews the story more toward Jason’s particular journey than the jaw-dropping implications of what this portal to parallel worlds means (or could mean) for humanity.

Apple has gambled on several ambitious science fiction projects of varying scope and scale, yielding mixed results, including “For All Mankind,” “Invasion,” “Constellation,” “Foundation,” “Severance” (the true standout on this list) and “Silo.”

“Dark Matter” falls somewhere in the middle of that pack, which is to say, you ultimately won’t miss all that much if you leave this door closed.

“Dark Matter” premieres May 8 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.)

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