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Virtuality (Pilot)

Frank: "I'm asking if you know fantasy from reality, Roger."
Roger: "I think I do. Do you know what's real, Frank?"

Virtuality is the sort of high concept science fiction show that is exactly my cup of tea. It's also the sort of show that gets canceled immediately. And that's if it even gets the chance to go to series.

So there's this ship called the Phaeton with a crew of twelve, on a trip to another star in search of a habitable planet. Five years there, five years returning. That's the simple part. In order to alleviate boredom and keep the crew from going nuts and killing each other, they have what is essentially their own holodeck in a pair of goggles: VIRT, virtual reality software where they can fight in the Civil War, headline at a rock concert, and even have really safe sex with each other.

What makes Virtuality so fascinating is the layers of unreality in the story. There is the artificiality of living on a ship in space in the first place. There is the "reality show" being filmed on the ship and sent back to Earth; everything they say and do is eventually seen by literally billions of people. They are even encouraged to alter their behavior to make it more exciting for the sake of ratings.

An environmental crisis has recently taken place on Earth and what the Phaeton is doing is critical for the survival of the species... or is it? How can they be sure Mission Control is telling them the truth? Their only privacy is in VIRT, but something in the program has gone terribly wrong; a strange man is appearing in all of their personal programs and killing them, which isn't real but certainly feels like it is. And then something terrible does indeed happen. Or does it? (I'm going to stop there before I say anything that will spoil you.)

This show stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom I really liked as the lead in the short-lived New Amsterdam. There's the wonderful Clea Duvall as the ship's pilot. There's even a female character named Billie, and that never happens. There's the claustrophobia of Alien, and a Hal-like computer named Jean. And, of course, Ron Moore, who knows how to create compelling, adult sci-fi. (Although I think he blew it with Caprica.)

In fact, I have been looking forward to Virtuality since I first heard about it, and I loved this pilot. I want it to be series. I want it a lot. And I bet I won't get it. Why does this keep happening to me? Why does Fox want to hurt me?

Couldn't they dump the stultifyingly boring Caprica and give us Virtuality instead?
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Billie, normally I agree with you 100% on all your reviews, but we've got to part ways on this one. The concept of Virtuality was so intriging, I went into the show with high anticipation... and was wanting to throw things at the screen within minutes of the opening. For me, the pacing of the show was like watching grass grow and just about as entertaining. I found the characters flat and the VR totally derivative. Remember the VR goggles in "Earth Two". Add in the reality-show format, and I'd rather watch the real "Big Brother" -- and I can't stand the inanity of *that* show. Finally, throw in all the scientific blunders (i.e., spinning the ship for gravity, but they walk on the walls instead of what the spin would make the floors; using goggles instead of a body suit to stimulate nerve endings all over the body (gee, they "felt" the death blows through their eyes? give me a break!); narrow spaces from the outside view of the ship that magically turn into cavernous quarters on the inside; etc.) Nope, if this pilot does magically become a show, I, for one, will definitely not be watching it.


  2. I really liked the episode. But it has the record of being the worst watched pilot on Fox ever. That can only be the fault of the promotion, since obviously nobody knew about the show. This is all we're going to get.

  3. I just loved this pilot. Unfortunately, I am certain this show won't be picked up. Fox has disappointed me too many times before so I am not optimistic. It's a shame, because the possible storylines here could have paved way for a multi-year fantastic series.
    I am feeling a sci-fi-low coming up this year. Caprica just seems dull, I don't have high hopes for V, and Stargate Universe feels like - been there done that.
    It's funny that I seem to like the British sci-fi series the most right now. We have Doctor Who with the fantastic spin-off Torchwood, the somewhat uneven but great Primeval, and the absolutely fabulous new series Being Human.
    All these shows have much lesser budgets but still keep me interested...

  4. Well I thought it was pretty interesting. Lots of "what is real and exactly how do you know it is really real?". I love shows that deal with epistemology as it is kind of the fundamental question regarding what we know about our universe and ultimately about ourselves. I knew going in that this was already a failed pilot and that there was not going to be a series. Fox is just burning off the chaff in its vault. I guess I had mixed emotions about no future for this concept: the story was definitely left completely open with no possibility of closeure but at least Ron Moore was not going get the opportunity to lead us down a path of promise only to dump us out at the end with a bunch of hastily constructed and sophmoric (and I think I am insulting all Sophmores) nonsense ala Battlestar Galactica (the final hour of which, for me, more or less ruined the preceding four years).

  5. Hi TJ,

    I don't mean to rain on your parade but did you know Primeval has been cancelled?


  6. Unfortunately Paul is right, but I guess we have not heard the last of Primeval.
    a)It's an international CO-Production, so ITV is not the only one who has a say
    b)There are rumors about an U.S. Spinoff
    c)The Warner Bros. movie deal.

  7. Billie,

    Where do you go for your information about upcoming shows like this one?

  8. Hi, Corey:

    Pretty much every new sci-fi show is mentioned on the Sci-Fi Wire:


    I know there are other sites as well but this one works for me.

    And by the way, the Sci-Fi Wire concurs that there is virtually :( no chance of a series. Yes, let's show it in the Friday night death slot during the summer, shall we?


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