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In the new series “Dark Matter,” a physics professor (Joel Edgerton) is abducted off the streets of Chicago and replaced by an alternative version of himself. This version, instead of toiling away teaching distracted undergrads, is a prize-winning scientist who, among his various accomplishments, has invented a box that can superposition people into parallel worlds.

This alternative Jason, despite his riches and renown in his own universe, covets the humbler Jason’s life and family — his loving wife (Jennifer Connelly) and son (Oakes Fegley). So he steals them, leaving the original Jason to negotiate a limbo of parallel realities, hopping from one to another as he tries to find his way home, like a sci-fi Odysseus.

“Dark Matter,” which premieres May 8 on Apple TV+, was created by Blake Crouch, adapting his own 2016 novel of the same title. The series is part thriller, part family drama and part physics primer, enlisting heady concepts like quantum mechanics, superposition and, well, dark matter, to tell a story about longing, regret and desire.

It is the latest project to depict physics as a vital, fraught and even sexy subject, joining the Oscar giant biopic “Oppenheimer” and the Netflix alien invasion series “3 Body Problem,” which is named for a classical mechanics problem. In these stories, physicists wrestle with matters of life and death that, as in reality, are intertwined with matters of love.

They’re human tales about human dilemmas. But they’re also happy to throw some science into the equation.

“More than anything, Blake and I wanted people to be excited in every episode, learn something in every episode, but also maybe cry in every episode,” Jacquelyn Ben-Zekry said in a video interview. She is a writer and producer on the series and has been Crouch’s developmental story editor since the publication of his 2012 novel “Pines” — she is also married to him.

“We wanted you to feel something in every episode,” she continued. “At the end of the day, it’s the story of a man who loves his wife and child. Everything else is just about making it interesting and exciting, and giving us something to talk about.”

And yet, that man is a physicist; in the first episode of “Dark Matter” we see Jason try to explain the quantum superposition experiment of Schrödinger’s cat, which bears directly on the plot, to a classroom full of largely uninterested students. The heroes of “Oppenheimer,” chiefly the title character, and “3 Body Problem,” about a team of Oxford-trained friends tasked with saving the world, are also physicists. (So are the socially befuddled young brainiacs of “The Big Bang Theory,” the hit sitcom that spawned a prequel, “Young Sheldon,” though the science took a back seat to high jinks and catchphrases.)

These series and movies go into technical specifics to varying degrees. “Dark Matter” dangles its central concepts enough to help make the Jasons’ world-jumping seem at least somewhat plausible and to bring some science to the science fiction.

The series is a techno-thriller, a subgenre popularized by authors like Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park”), whom Crouch cites as a major influence. It is also a cautionary sci-fi tale, the kind with roots digging down to the origins of the genre, including Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (1818). These are tales of ambition — and often transgression — about the consequences of meddling with the forces of nature. “Oppenheimer,” a historical drama, deals directly with these consequences, asking what it might have felt like to unleash the apocalyptic powers of the atomic bomb (and explaining the concept of fission along the way).

Crouch, best known on TV for the short-lived sci-fi thriller “Wayward Pines” (which was based on his trilogy of novels), is definitely not a physicist. As an English major at the University of North Carolina, he studied geology to fulfill his science requirement.

“Rocks seemed safe, so I did rocks,” he said in a video interview. But he was also a big fan of science fiction, particularly Crichton. “He didn’t invent the techno-thriller, but he made it fun,” he said. “A lot of people think ‘Jurassic Park’ is just schlocky pulp fiction, but it’s really amazing that he wrote a book about dinosaurs and chaos theory. It’s in the weeds on some of that stuff.”

Crouch is pretty comfortable wading in the weeds. He’s enamored of the physicist Aaron O’Connell, and his experiments in superposition. In layman’s terms, superposition refers to the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple different states simultaneously until it is measured. (In the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, a cat in a box is both is alive and dead at the same time, in a quantum theoretical sense.) While writing “Dark Matter,” Crouch also consulted with the astrophysicist Clifford V. Johnson, a professor at the University of Southern California who, according to his official bio, is “mainly concerned with the development of theoretical tools for the description of the basic fabric of nature.”

But for the purposes of the series, as Ben-Zekry put it, “You have to tell a propulsive story. Nobody cares about your science and how smart you are if they’re not entertained and if they’re not excited.”

Viewers might recognize “Dark Matter” as a variation on the multiverse story, made popular in recent years by Oscar winners including “Everything Everywhere All At Once” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (and its sequels). It is a popular conceit in the fantasy franchise world, and a useful way to expand those franchise’s storytelling universes. But for Edgerton, the appeal of “Dark Matter” lies largely in the ordinariness of the characters, the fact that they’re dealing with everyday concerns like life-work balance and raising a family.

“It’s a parallel universe narrative for the average family,” Edgerton said in a video interview alongside Connolly. “Rather than going outward into the galaxies and trying to go through wormholes, it becomes a show that looks more inward.”

The defining question behind “Dark Matter” can be summed up by the title of the first episode: “Are You Happy in Your Life?” “It has its own suburban kind of esoteric, pensive pondering about it that I think is superhuman rather than supernatural,” Edgerton said.

And if you learn a little about a subject that gave you fits in high school, Connolly said, that’s great, too. “I think science is exciting personally,” she said. “If people take that away from it, good. Science is super captivating and sexy.”

While acknowledging their imperative to entertain, Crouch and Ben-Zekry also see a higher purpose in putting science front and center, especially in an age when the very concept of facts is increasingly under attack.

“I hope shows like these will go a long way toward uniting thought and reminding people that we’re all in this together,” Ben-Zekry said. “That you don’t have to believe the same things as me, but science can at least give us some objective reality.”

As Crouch sees it, the current climate is enough to make one feel like they’ve tumbled into an alternative reality. Just like Jason.

“Especially post-2016, it feels like we all slipped into another dimension, with this notion of fake news and the question of what is real anymore,” he said. “There’s a destruction of truth and reality. I think we all still want to understand what reality is.”



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