Category Archives: Virtuality

Premiere: Virtuality – “Pilot”

VirtualityTitle

“Pilot”

June 26th, 2009

After watching the two-hour event that is the Virtuality pilot, I think I can understand why FOX was resistent to picking the show up to series.

It isn’t that FOX is allergic to science fiction: it goes into next season with the genre’s two biggest television properties, Fringe and Dollhouse, in its lineup. Rather, there’s a particular way that it likes its science fiction, a preference that both Dollhouse and Fringe fit into comfortable. Both shows, although expanding heavily on their serialized elements and genre transmorgifications later in their freshman seasons, started out as genrified takes on the procedural mystery model, combining a high concept with what is arguably a more accesible and thus lower form of weekly episodic television. For FOX executives worried about selling the show to advertisers and viewers alike, it was the ace up their sleeve, the caveat that allowed them to both give the appearance of openness to genre programming and satisfy their desire to eat away at CBS’ dominance in the field.

The reason Virtuality wasn’t ordered to series is because it is one giant, enormous middle finger to such ludicrous practices of watering down science fiction upon its arrival so as to pretend as if the people who don’t like science fiction are going to stick around once things get weird. What makes good science fiction is the balls out willingness to question reality, and to break away from any and all conventions, all qualities that both Fringe and Dollhouse are capable of and yet never got to reach until FOX was satisfied that the show was really just CSI with insane science or The Unit with personality implants. Virtuality, however, wastes no time in crafting a world where nothing where we question everything, and is thus a world that any science fiction fan in their right mind wants to explore further.

All but dead in the water despite the strange lead-up to this airing, Virtuality is a fascinating pilot, a god awful standalone television movie considering how it ends, and, should it truly find itself on the wrong end of FOX’s idiocy, another sign that high science fiction may be a thing of the past on network television.

But, for now, excuse me if I spend a bit of time talking about how awesome it was.

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Cultural Alert: Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX

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“It is not a f***ing movie.” – Michael Taylor, co-creator of Virtuality

This quote, coming from an interview with former Battlestar Galactica writer Michael Taylor by Dan Fienberg over at HitFix, is probably confusing considering that FOX is promoting Virtuality, from the mind of Ronald D. Moore and with a pilot directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), as a one-time event. Or, at least they’re scheduling it as one. Or, at least they were scheduling it as one.

Now, I legitimately don’t know what to think. Conceived as a pilot for this past development season, the project fell on deaf ears with FOX executives who asked for extensive editing and didn’t order the show to series. However, as an expensive sci-fi pilot, the network wants to recoup its money, so a two-hour television event was scheduled…for Saturday, July 4th. Even we Canadians know that people don’t watch television on a national holiday in the middle of summer, so it seemed like the project was being tossed onto the pile.

And then, something strange happened: FOX moved the airdate to tonight, June 26th. And then they scheduled numerous conference calls so that press could talk to the show’s producers. And they even organized a premiere for the project, going against nearly every logical process one would expect from a summer burn-off.

There are two basic possibilities here. The first is that FOX knows the cultural cache of Ronald D. Moore in the world of science fiction, and figured that it could better recoup sales through potential advertising and DVD revenue if it worked the hype machine ahead of time, knowing that fans of Battlestar and science fiction in general would do much of the work for them. This seems the more likely option, considering that FOX already has a low-rated prestige science fiction show on its 2009-2010 lineup (Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).

However, the way they’re promoting the broadcast theoretically leaves the door open for them to take the show to series down the road, a possibility that FOX has left open for reasons that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps it is just so that people will tune in even though it may seem like a dead end, or a waste of their time, buoyed by the faint hope FOX is providing. Or, perhaps FOX is actually willing to give the show a shot if the ratings surprise them.

Regardless, I have unfortunately not been able to screen Virtuality ahead of time, and have been trying to stay spoiler free in order to approach it with a fresh perspective. However, here’s the “official” synopsis so you have some sense of what the show’s about:

As the crew of the Phaeton approaches the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space, the fate of Earth rests in their hands. The pressure is intense, and 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 a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, every step of the journey and every minute of the crew members’ lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

I’ll be back either late tonight or tomorrow afternoon with my own thoughts, but in the meantime you can check out Alan Sepinwall, Dan Fienberg and Maureen Ryan’s thoughts on the film…I mean, pilot. Or whatever it bloody well is.

Virtuality, as mentioned, airs at 8/7c on FOX.

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