This Week in the Mercury


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Well, There Goes Virtuality.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 3:53 PM

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After Battlestar Galactica wrapped up, a lot of people wondered what'd be next for BSG's showrunner, Ronald D. Moore. What was slated to be his next thing, though, just got taken out behind the barn and shot in the head.

The two-hour pilot for Virtuality aired last night on FOX, with little buzz, even less promotion, and ratings that would embarrass Eliza Dushku. Which is too bad, 'cause while it isn't perfect, Virtuality has a ton of potential.

At first, it sounds like Holodeck: The TV Series!—but it's better than that, I promise. The basic concept: A crew undertaking a long-term space expedition is not only forced to live in close quarters with each other, but they're also filmed 24/7 for a reality TV show that's beamed back to Earth. Their only way to escape from their crewmates and their viewers? Step into the holodeck Slip on a pair of virtual reality glasses, which allow them to live out their fantasies. For example, the commander of the ship, Pike (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), slips into a Civil War simulation; another crew member (Kerry Bishé) lives out a virtual life in which she's both a rock star and a secret agent.

Problems arise when the simulations start getting creepy, violent, and unpredictable—and soon enough, Virtuality has taken its kinda-goofy concept and spun it into something mysterious, intriguing, and pretty goddamn original. (In addition to raising plenty of questions about our dependence on technology and how it affects our self-perception, one of Virtuality's cleverest touches is that a chunk of it is told via confessionals from the reality TV show that's being filmed onboard, adding a nicely meta edge to the proceedings.) As Wired notes, "Virtuality is a tricky beast to wrap your head around, and not just because it interlaces reality TV-style 'confessionals,' spaceship drama, and virtual-reality dream sequences into a dense layer cake of multistranded sci-fi conflict." (That makes the pilot sound vaguely headache-inducing, but it wasn't.) Plus, the acting's strong across the board, it's smartly and uniquely directed by Peter Berg, and it features Clea DuVall, who I've had a crush on ever since The Faculty.

So: Ratings were abysmal, most people never even heard about it, and FOX continues their trend of picking up promising sci-fi shows and then quickly abandoning them. (As if to rub salt in the wound, FOX decided to air ads for a motherfucking Family Guy spinoff during Virtuality's commercial breaks. I have no doubt The Cleveland Show will be a huge success, but I dare you to wring a single laugh out of something like this.)

Anyway, you can watch the pilot over at FOX's website. As long as you can keep in mind that it's likely the last you'll ever see of the show, I'd recommend checking it out.

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