jere7my (jere7my) wrote,

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A quick break from all-Italy-all-the-time to plug Virtuality, the Fox summer pilot from Ron Moore (the Battlestar Galactica guy). I watched the two-hour pilot this weekend, and was shocked to find myself watching a really excellent hard SF series that owes a debt to the ideas of Arthur C. Clarke and the crew dynamics of the first third of Alien. It might legitimately be called slow or dense, but I'd rather say "thought-provoking" and "unhurried." I frankly expected the sort of "Holodeck-done-gone-wrong!" fluff I got so sick of on Star Trek; instead, the virtual reality aspects offer thoughtful, fascinating social extrapolation (there are at least two really solid social SF ideas in the pilot), and when things do go wrong, they go wrong in ways that a) emerge naturally from the idea of immersive VR and b) set up some very interesting mysteries.

The show is set on a deep-space ship, the Phaeton, as it approaches the "go or no-go" slingshot point at Neptune. Either they turn back there, or they turn on the Orion drive (yes, it's as cool as you'd hope) and strike off on a ten-year mission to Epsilon Eridani. The mission seems to be funded by Fox TV, and for their investment they've turned the mission into a reality TV series, a la Big Brother, called Edge of Never. This adds another layer of social commentary and interpersonal tension, and raises the question of how truthful mission control is being. (Is Earth really beset by environmental crises behind them, or are the producers telling them that to boost drama?) The ten-year mission gives a compelling reason to keep using the VR environment, even when it proves to be glitchy — without that escape, they're apt to go stir-crazy and turn on each other.

The cast is almost too perfectly diverse, but I'm not going to complain. It's handled well — in particular, the first time we see the gay couple, they're squabbling in the kitchen, and I thought, "Oh, great — they're giving us feisty queens in space." Then the couple complains to the reality TV producer that he keeps portraying them as feisty queens in space to boost ratings. Ha!

The series is most likely doomed, which makes me sad. They set up a bunch of really juicy mysteries and conflicts that I'd love to see unfold, and they probably never will. That said, I'm told the final decision is yet to be made, and will be influenced by the number of people who watch the pilot. So:

Watch it free on Hulu. 87 minutes.

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