Review: Virtuality

Battlestar Galactica 2: Even fewer yucks

Virtuality cast

In the US: Friday June 26, 8pm, Fox. Available on Fox On Demand
In the UK: Sky will probably nab it

Unless minor miracles happen, this won’t become a TV series. Yes, it’s from the brain of Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D Moore (well, “written by Michael Taylor; story by Michael Taylor & Ronald D. Moore”). Yes, Fox picked it up as a pilot.

But then they had second thoughts and left it to air as a TV movie.

It’ll also be a minor miracle because frankly, if you thought Battlestar Galactica was depressing, you’re not going to have a fun time with Virtuality. Here’s a 12 minute preview to give you the basic idea.


Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (“New Amsterdam”) stars

The crew of the Phaeton is approaching the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space. With the fate of Earth in their hands, the pressure is intense. The best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It’s the perfect stress-reliever until they realize a glitch in the system has unleashed a virus on to the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, their lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth in the World Broadcast Premiere of VIRTUALITY airing Friday, June 26 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (FM-0904) (TV-TBA)

Cast: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Commander Frank Pike; Sienna Guillory as Rika Goddard; James D’Arcy as Dr. Roger Fallon; Ritchie Coster as Dr. Jimmy Johnson; Erik Jensen as Dr. Jules Braun; Omar Metwally as Dr. Adin Meyer; Kerry Bishe as Billie Kashmiri; Joy Bryant as Alice Thibadeau; Nelson Lee as Kenji Yamamoto; Jose Pablo Cantillo as Manny Rodriguez; Gene Farber as Val Orlovsky; Clea Duvall as Sue Parsons; Jimmi Simpson as Virtual Man

Is it any good?
Well, it’s clever, I’ll give it that much. One of those bits of sci-fi that actually tries to predict what the future is like, Virtuality is a heady combination of virtual reality (surprise, surprise), scientifically semi-accurate space travel, predictions of global doom from climate change, artificial intelligence, omnipresent reality TV, the dominance of corporations and a whole lot more. In fact, it’s quite clogged down by all the ideas.

But Virtuality is really about people. It’s about the effect of close confinement for years at a time; it’s about people’s dreams and what would happen if you could share them; it’s about what gets repressed and the need for privacy; and it’s about our relationship with technology.

Sounds dull, huh?

And you wouldn’t be terribly wrong, because although it’s quite clever and well made, with some terrific acting with a predominantly international cast, including three Brits (another reason Fox didn’t want it?), it is ever so slightly dull and worthy. All the characters have ‘defining traits’, none of which is “to be constantly cracking funnies” and all of which are tremendously dramatic (eg Parkinson’s Disease, in league with the big bad corporations, used to be a marine, etc). And despite the potential of virtual reality, the show has the classic BSG disease of “bad things are happening therefore there must be no jokes or fun, ever.”

The only time it strays into potentially fun territory, it dives off at the deep end into quite traumatic waters thanks to the computer virus that is apparently messing around with the virtual reality systems and ‘killing’ everyone in their dreams. I say it’s a virus, mainly because the press release says it is, but like a lot of Virtuality, it’s not exactly clear what’s going on.

Quite where the show would have ended (subject to minor miracles) after the end of the pilot, I don’t know. Spoiler alert: there’s the implication that the whole thing is a virtual reality simulation, so would we have had a Life On Mars like pull-out later on? Would the deceased Commander Pike have continued to live on in VR as a sentient character? But it wouldn’t have been desperately fun to watch, I know that much.

So I’m actually kind of glad it stayed as a movie. True, there were enough loose ends left dangling that it needed a better conclusion to tie them up, but not enough that it’s begging for more episodes to finish it off. A quality TV movie, but I’m not exactly sure what a series could have said that we’d need to listen to, and it wasn’t exciting enough to make me want to stay around to find out.

  • bob

    Why does serious = dull?
    I adored this. Real scifi done exceptionally well. It doesn’t patronise the viewer and it raises some excellent issues/ideas. Loved the music and the special effects as well. Best scifi I have ever seen on tv. It reminded me a lot of the first part of Red Mars but with metaphysical questions and awesome beauty.

  • bob

    The [spoiler] scene you mention was particularly powerful in my opinion because it started off as possibly the most enjoyable scene in the pilot. I adored that particular VR scenario. Damn the writers for turning that around!
    It’s nowhere near as depressing as BSG which had genocide in the first few minutes. But it is like BSG in that it seems dour at first but then on a rewatch you realise just how many jokes there are in it. Besides, you can’t expect wit of physicists. The level we got felt realistic.
    I agree that there is the idea behind it that the “quality of the idea” is fascinating enough. I just happen to agree with the writers. Scifi is increasingly turned into mindless action by Hollywood and *gulp* Doctor Who. I like action- don’t get me wrong- but I need cerebral stimulation too. Fortunately there are plenty of scifi books for those that like to think rather than (or more usually as well as…) have futuristic equivalents of car chases. But there isn’t so much on the telly since BSG ended. (Unless you count Dollhouse which everyone seemed to claim was cerebral but I never got it…)
    Essentially… I get why it is not commercial. I just wish more people would rate quality over entertainment (though then again if a global population liking reality tv means that a space program gets funded… maybe it isn’t so bad!).
    Sigh. I thought the same as this with Kings. Some things I watch and I know they are doomed.

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