Friday, June 26, 2009

Virtuality: Is that all there is?

Okay, I wrote about "Virtuality" in Wednesday's column, but what did you all think? If this winds up being the only episode ever, are you glad you watched, or frustrated that there's nothing resembling an ending? And in the unlikely event that this rises from the dead, would you watch? Would you want to tweak anything?

48 comments:

Myles said...

In Order:

Glad I watched, as it was damn entertaining.

Would certainly keep watching.

Tweaks are a bit tough since the pilot doesn't entirely give a sense of what form the show would take, but I think that staging an occasional In Treatment episode within the show would help highlight the psychological side of things.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I watched even without any real answers. I would watch if it became a real show. I think it would actually make a really good complanion to Dollhouse, but that might be part of why they didn't pick it up.

Anonymous said...

GREAT show! I'll be watching if it ever returns!

Marlark said...

Liked it. Want more. Is it all a fantasy? Are they not in a spaceship? How far down does the rabbit hole go?

I wish creators of shows like this, or cancelled shows like Journeyman, would share with the viewers, who invested time and emotion into their project, what it was they had planned.

What were their thoughts, or story arcs, or the big reveals. Doesn't the twitterbooking interactivity of life these days allow for this kind of interaction with their audience?

I'll follow artists like Michael Taylor or Ron Moore wherever they go, so treating the fans with an insight into their vision only further adheres us to their "tribe" and encourage us to tune in next time.

But I digress. Virtuosity was good TV.

Anonymous said...

I wish networks would do this more often. They should air lots of pilots and then commission series based on viewer reaction. The current system where only 1 out of 10 shows survive is messed up.

paulf said...

I liked it. Not perfect, but I'd definitely watch more. It seemed a little padded, and the Reality TV stuff wasn't great, but most of it worked. It reminded me a lot of Danny Boyle's Sunshine (which is an opinion I've seen elsewhere too).

Also, Liam McPoyle from It's Only Sunny In Philadelphia was in it!

People who watched it expecting a stand-alone movie must have been really confused...

Anonymous said...

I think Frank killed himself because having Roger, the psych officer, do it would be too easy. I just wish there was an episode 2.

FeministPollyanna said...

I actually loved the 'movie'/pilot. It was a hell of a lot better than Dollhouse's pilot, but I do think it would make a great Friday night companion with DH.

I agree with Myles that I'm interested in what genre/direction the future episodes would fall into, but I do like how hybrid-y the episode felt. Loved the music also.

For some reason, favorite characters were Dr. Adin Meyer (the medical doctor) and Sue Parsons, so I'd like to see more of them.

Dudleys Mom said...

I really liked it, and I would have definitely watched it. (I don't watch Dollhouse but I am a sci-fi junkie. Make whatever you want of that.) I also see the comparison to "Sunshine" (although that movie was boring as hell after about 30 minutes) but in truth it seemed very modern...influenced by many things, au courant even. I'm glad I read somewhere about Peter Berg's directorial technique of using extreme closeups, because I think I appreciated them more (really effective here, since, like Sunshine, the show exploited claustrophobia). Really good cast, and good direction, and an interesting premise that uses space to explore current issues, like sci-fi should. Thanks Ron Moore, Michael Taylor and Peter Berg...please have a change of heart Fox. (or get your butt in gear to pick this up, SyFy.)

Myles said...

Having just finished my lengthy review (I know I'm a glutton for heartbreak, don't worry), I did piece together the really only potential for the show to survive: DirecTV sponsored the airing, and Peter Berg has two shows airing on The 101 (FNL and Wonderland). Sure, it'd be a hell of a lot more expensive than Friday Night Lights, but it's really the only shot the show has.

shar said...

I liked it and would watch again. Would tweak the reality TV part of it. I don't like reality TV and didn't really like that part of the show. Loved the ending and left me wanting more.

Teev said...

I liked it alot and would definitely watch it if it was a series. When it was over they showed a preview of a show they did pick up that looked dreadful (albeit much cheaper). I wish they'd picked up Horrors of the Holodeck instead. I like Ron Moore's kind of sci-fi where you can see cool space stuff but he doesn't have a lot of technobabble in the dialogue. And I liked the conceit of the reality show and how we could know the characters through their confessions. (I laughed at how the one guy was all "I designed the almost light speed drive all by myself" and then the producer was all "I designed this uncomfortable room all by myself.")

It did have that Sunshine/Solaris feel to it with the "space is boring and will make you weird" thing going on. That's ok though.

Aristophanes said...

I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad I gave it a try even if this is it. I hope it gets extended longer, and would definitely watch if it did.

It seems like folks are fairly divided about the reality TV aspect, but I dug it. I thought it added another dimension to the show, and would offer more storylines as the show progressed.

Sad to see that the death at the end stuck, or at least appeared to depending on how you interpret the last scene.

Zack Smith said...

I thought it was pretty darn good, and I hope they can do a cheapie version on DirecTV.

Have a bit of a crush on Kerry Bishe (Billie). Man, she could be Leighton Meester's sister...

Nifty Star Trek pun with naming the commander "Pike..."

This went in an interesting new direction from the script, having the commander have a sort of revelation though the VR units, and the implication that all of this might just be the Matrix. Really want to see where this goes.

TiVoed this, but the commercial breaks were like five full minutes! What the hell!

Too much for broadcast TV -- very dense and character-driven. Would work better on Sci Fi, FX or again, DirecTV. But a really cool idea for a show in general.

Crawford said...

I was grateful that we were able to finally see this much awaited show and it did not disappoint. I was intrigued from beginning to end. Now that the setting and characters have been introduced, I'd love see where the "rabbit hole" leads to.

I hope FOX doesn't leave their viewers amazed, stunned then abandoned.

It makes for a fantastic show that I'll be following.

belinda said...

While the pilot wasn't great (good, but not great), there are moments in there that have a lot of potential of being extremely great. The premise of the show is certainly intriguing, and I am a bit sad that this would be the only episode we'd be seeing (isn't the project all but dead, or so I've heard?), because it's not every day one would come across something as strange but exciting as this show might have been. I want more, damnit!

Of the two RDM projects, I found Virtuality to be the one I wish I would be watching instead.

Gen said...

LOVED it, glad I watched. Found the cast/characters to be very engaging, in particular. And the last scene had me arguing with the TV: Damn you, this can't be all? This isn't fair!

I would definitely tune in if it became a series. But I'd also be nervous about it, if it were to continue on one of the major networks, knowing their track record. I'd feel better if it was on cable.

Is there any hope for Virtuality fans?

Anonymous said...

Forgot to Tivo it. Is it on Hulu or anything like that?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I didn't like it. My interest started to ebb when I found out it was a reality show in space. I just couldn't get into the characters and really didn't care what happened to them in the future. I loved the visuals and found the ship's design very intriguing. I also liked the plot device about the virtual reality recreation system. Mybe I didn't like it because I didn't like Dollhouse either.

BigTed said...

I enjoyed this quite a bit, and I didn't mind the fact that it's a pilot episode with lots of unanswered questions. But I'm not sure I'd want to see it as a continuing series -- it would work better as, say, a six-hour miniseries.

One thing I noticed -- even though it was a coincidence, the producers of this show must have gone nuts when they saw near-identical plot elements in the final episode of "Life on Mars."

Alan Sepinwall said...

So, "Virtuality" completely tanked. Barring something weird, I think we can abandon all those dreams of Fox resurrecting the show.

Carrie said...

That's too bad, Alan, because I really enjoyed it. I actually thought this was one of the few times a reality show-within-the-show totally worked. It was an exploitative, all-access reality show chronicling the quest to save earth from certain destruction called THE EDGE OF NEVER. C'mon. That's awesome. Also, Peter Berg's directing style is really well suited to a reality show format.

Here's why the show got terrible ratings: wrong network, light promotion, complicated premise, random Friday night summer airing of a "movie event." If they could afford to have this on Sci Fi, I think it would do quite well.

mkr said...

loved it. i would really like to know how it would have played out. i certainly have a couple of ideas, but i guess we'll never know. isn't that always the way...

i noticed something pretty interesting in the cast photo at the top of the post.

oh well.

Toby O'B said...

mkr: "i noticed something pretty interesting in the cast photo at the top of the post."

Would that have been a matter of recasting? Because somebody in that pic doesn't look like the character in the movie....

But I could be wrong.

Eldritch said...

When Billie was in front of her Japanese audience, that song she sang had a familiar tune, I thought. I may be crazy, but it sounded like the theme to "The Munsters." Could that be right?

R.A. Porter said...

@Eldritch, that was definitely the theme to The Munsters.

I did *not* like it, mostly because it tried to use plausible science and failed miserably. I started to write a comment earlier and realized I was writing a minor dissertation on the ways this show screwed things up so I decided to write a review instead.

For me, it came down to...

If Ron Moore wants to do a TV show where a dragon flaps its wings to make the spaceship made of cotton candy and faerie sweat travel 17-times the speed of light, I’ll be there. I’ll accept the premise because it’s fanciful and makes no attempt at scientific reality or veracity. Hell, if he wants to tell me about dilithium crystals and spacewarps, that’s fine too. But the more a show tries to ground itself, even wrap itself, in scientific plausibility the more I expect from it.

So much was wrong I got a stiff neck from shaking my head so much.

Really all this show did was make me realize how desperately I want AMC to get cracking on their Red Mars miniseries. Which miniseries will sadly seem somewhat derivative to the tiny few who saw Virtuality last night and have never read the source novel.

Gen said...

A shame about the ratings. I agree with Carrie, though...Random Friday night, little or no promotion (I didn't hear about the show till I read Alan's blog). All the lingering coverage of MJ probably didn't help, either. Too bad that SciFi or USA or one of the others didn't get hold of this first.

Anonymous said...

As a computer scientist, I was pleased to see a computer scientist character (rather than a computer programmer, technician, or engineer, all related but not the same). I was further pleased that she was a woman, since the field has such a crummy gender balance. Her Japanese accent really sucked, though. You'd think she could ask Jean to give her a better one?!

Other than that, I liked the show :)

Eldritch said...

R.A. Porter said...
I did *not* like it, mostly because it tried to use plausible science and failed miserably.... I decided to write a review instead
.

I just read your review and you raise a number of good points. I tend to think I have a low threshold for tolerating pseudo-scientific nonsense in science fiction. Your threshold may be even lower than mine.

The way Ron Moore et al. ended Battlestar Galactica crossed my threshold. In some of his episode commentaries, he's talked about including a plot development merely because he was so struck by the image it created (e.g., Kara dying and returning to life). He wrote it up on the hope he and his team would invent a plausible explanation by the end of the series.

I just watched the second season of "Roswell," which was also one of Moore's shows. In one episode he has a character sign a credit card slip in binary code rather than his signature. In the commentary, he explained he had no idea what binary code was ... but it sounded cool. But it never did make any sense. Other characters ran around trying to solve the clue, but eventually just dropped it. Because it actually had no meaning.

And that's a real shame. I feel one of the basic rules of fiction of any kind is that it has to make sense. Moore's characters and the drama among them in BSG were just outstanding. That makes it so much more disappointing then to see that excellent writing undercut by nonsense and violations of common sense.

To me science fiction like that is equivalent to a western in which John Wayne wins the day by having his voodoo priest place a curse on the bad guy.

I'm eager to see "The Plan" and "Caprica," and I would give "Virtuality" a chance. But would Ron Moore ultimately tell us the bad guy in the Virtual Reality scenarios is an angel or Lucifer? Will the dead captain return like Kara?

Anonymous said...

They passed on this to renew Dollhouse? Somebody at Fox didn't have their priorities straight.

Ingrid said...

It had some good moments, but mostly I was underwhelmed and bored by it.

K J Gillenwater said...

I liked it...took me awhile to get into because there were just SO many characters. Yikes! It took a while to find someone to root for or at least who the major players were.

The reality TV aspect is actually what built the tension in this show b/c there was nowhere to do to be 'secretive' except in the VR modules. There are cameras and mikes following you at all times...no privacy. If you took away the reality TV part, it would've been so much less tension-filled.

BTW, the one thing that irked me is all the males who were 'attacked' in their VR realities were just killed. But the one woman who they showed? Of COURSE she had to be raped. That just ticked me off as a woman. Sorry. Why does SHE get that treatment? Why not male rape? Why can't she just be killed, too??

Especially since the dying that the captain experienced and the other dude ended up being these transcendent experiences. How was the woman's rape ever going to be transcendant? It wasn't...so what was the point of it? Just salaciousness?

It just made me sick to my stomach, b/c it seemed to have no purpose in furthering the plot.

However, with the exception of that one rant, I did enjoy it. Loved the starkness of space. Would've watched more. Here's to hoping we have some more well-done sci fi shows soon. I need at least ONE on the air!

Number Five said...

After building up so much anticipation, I was worried there was no way it could meet expectations...but it was fantastic. I'm both glad I watched and frustrated we'll never see anything else, but the former easily outweighs the latter.

Its depiction of our increasing inability to tell reality and fantasy apart felt very prescient. I also loved the paranoia resulting from the combination of almost no contact with Earth (and if mission control isn't trustworthy, what about the messages from loved ones at home?) and infinite contact on the ship. With all the cameras, they really are in the Panopticon. It made the ship feel even smaller, like they're all in one room but with nothing beyond the walls. Some characters got sketched out more than others, but they were all well done.

In just the pilot they made clear how radical the virtual technology can be by exploring everyone's reactions to their simulated deaths. Even more telling, though, was seeing the navigator confronted with the horrible results of telling the computer to put everything, including all his memories into the son character.

Also lots of great visual bits, like the pulse drive activation sequence, the real landscape mimicking the doctor's painting, the way the computer interface looks an eye and can appear anywhere on the ship, etc.

As with many pilots, some of the expository dialogue was a bit clunky, as were a few of the thematic statements. I was also a bit surprised the topic of being attacked in your simulation didn't get more discussed since it happened to half the crew, but it made sense that the private nature of the simulations would prevent that, at least at first. So only minor complaints.

If it doesn't air, I'd love for Moore and Taylor to talk about where they wanted to take it. They could at least address first season storylines and talk about some of the larger ideas they had.

Mrglass said...

or frustrated that there's nothing resembling an ending?

We know the ending: God did it.

Nicole said...

I liked this too and wondered why it didn't make it to a series when so much other garbage has. In fact, I think I like it better than the Caprica pilot, only because there are entirely new ideas and not extensions of the BSG world.

I am in agreement with KJ in terms of the rape though. I don't know whose idea it was to include it in there, but to have the female character raped instead of shot like the others was a complete turn off, and a continuation of a trend I noticed in BSG, that of the female characters being raped or almost raped when a threatening situation arises. It wasn't needed and at this point the effects of the rape were more real to her than any of the others who were shot because they got to wake up alive, whereas she can't undo the mental trauma she experienced. And while the scene with the pilot was needed, there could have been another way for them to bond instead of being doing it as victims of rape.

I am not surprised by the ratings though, because any MJ coverage will obviously be more interesting than a pilot of a show with no future episodes. It's too bad the guy from New Amsterdam is once again on a show that goes nowhere fast. He deserves a show that lasts.

nutmeag said...

Like many others, I found the pilot to be good, but not great. However, the potentiality of the themes and characters is positively massive. Virtuality creates a thought-provoking plot line and intriguing characters. Plus, I love sooo many of the actors involved with this project. This show left me thinking much more than Caprica did.

Oh, and they're still trying to get it renewed. Check out http://virtuality-tv.info/Renewal/

Anonymous said...

I thought it was great; I was riveted. But, I can see why Fox didn't pick it up - it is pretty hardcore scifi, it requires thinking and it really sticks it to reality tv. So, that means it has zero chance of attracting a network tv following. Which is a huge pity because it's a great set-up for a show.

Henry said...

It was long and unwieldy and boring. Looked like it wanted to be Solaris and resembled the film Sunshine as well. Just strange.

And yeah, I had problems with the ending, if you can really call it that.

I dunno if I would watch again if the show came up again.

Damien said...

So underwhelming. There were many derivative elements from 2001, Silent Running, Sunshine, Solaris and Matrix, but on a crappy budget. The ship and sets looked decidedly low rent.

However, the worst aspect was the 'reality show' element. It really grated. This show is presumably targeted at people with a sci-fi bent, a demographic that wouldn't be seen dead watching any 'reality' program nonsense. Way to go.

None of the characters were especially engaging. I never really cared about any of them.

Then there's the elephant in the room. They're supposed to have this nuclear pulse drive which will accelerate them close to the speed of light in a 10 year mission to reach Epsilon Eridani (five years there and five years back to Earth). Except that Epsilon Eridani is 10.5 light years away, so even traveling at light speed, it would be 21 year mission. Not to mention acceleration and deceleration times. Why not pick Alpha Centauri which is actually much closer and would make the stated round trip time more plausible?

Why use a giant, manually controlled, robotic arm to load the nuclear devices (other than looking 'cool')? A simpler automated delivery system would be much more efficient and reliable.

These (and other) details are things that take me out of the narrative because they just don't make sense within the context of a sci-fi show that is aiming for scientific realism (unlike Trek, say).

The most interesting aspect was the use of VR goggles to help pass the time. And this is where things go wrong when a rogue, unprogrammed character starts killing/raping people in the simulations, leaving those people with real physiological trauma. Is it a computer glitch or did someone hack into the computer? This is left open until another glitch causes the captain to be killed by a malfunctioning airlock door. Accident or killer on board? Unfortunately, had this show been picked up for a series there would no doubt be endless blurring of what is real and what is simulation, which could get old pretty fast.

The lack of an ending is just icing on the cake! My respect for Moore is dwindling at an alarming rate. I used to sing the praises of BSG, season 1, but became increasingly disillusioned by it to the point I dropped it half way through its run. I feel vindicated having read how the series wrapped up. So, I'm not disappointed that it wasn't picked up.

K J Gillenwater said...

Damien,

Just had to say, I like sci fi and reality tv. Just depends on the reality tv show. So please don't whitewash all sci fi lovers as haters of reality tv.

As for true-to-science science fiction...doesn't bother me. I didn't 100% understand how they were propelling themselves to lightspeed, and I didn't really care. I am assuming they picked the Eridani location b/c 'regular' folk, like myself, aren't very familiar with it. Who cares how far away it is in reality? I thought it was made-up for the show myself.

Muskingum College Library said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Someone asked earlier - it /is/ up on Hulu.

Not having a Nielsen box or DVR, I've gotten so I watch as much 'I want it to be counted' TV through the net as possible these days. At least they can count my viewing then!

Tracey said...

It was interesting. I'm an SF fan, and not a fan of reality TV, so I found some of the reality TV conceits a bit grating at times. If it had been picked up, I certainly would have given it at least as much of a try as, say, Dollhouse. I think the pilot of this was more promising than just about anything I ever saw in Dollhouse.

One of the things that really struck me was the handling of the rape business. I looked back through the writing credits to see if there was a female writer, but there wasn't, which surprised me because they really conveyed a female understanding of the experience. The male characters mostly did not get what the big deal was, so what if somebody pinched her butt (which is the kind of reaction a woman would expect a man to have); the women all understood instinctively how invasive and humiliating the experience was. Men will, of course, deny being this insensitive, but as I said, this is a common female perception of the male reaction, and one I was surprised to see from a male writer.

Why were they going to Eridani anyway? Did I miss something, or did they not explain that? I know there was some business about global warming, but I was never clear on how a ten-light-year trip for a handful of people was supposed to help.

There was something about the idea of a psychologist that didn't quite feel right to me. In several scenes, we see that he is a talented and experienced at editing video and putting it together, not talents I would expect to see in a psychologist. My guess is that he wasn't really a psychologist; he was a TV producer who was playing to role of ship psychologist as an excuse to be on the ship, where he could have some control over the situation. But of course, now we'll never know.

Benjamin said...

I loved it, every second of it, and I'd gladly sacrifice Caprica (which I enjoyed too) for it. Its weird, dark, and compelling. The casting was pretty well done, and the music was great. Its a real tragedy that this isn't going to series.

Unlike some other shows, given how vested in the medium of television this show is, I don't think it would work well as a comic book or in some other media. Which is another shame because I'd like to know how it ends.

doctorcranium said...

Yeah, interesting premise, but it doesn't seem like it could work as a weekly show outside the sci-fi network.

Perhaps another couple of feature-length specials would work.

That said, I'd definitely watch it if they decided to do it. Love those British characters. And there are a good few interesting threads started in the pilot.

Kaitlin Thomas said...

I watched it and I'm glad I did. I really liked it. The first hour wasn't highly entertaining to me, but I understand the need to set up the series and the characters. The reality TV aspect to it bothered me, but I think that comes from my natural hatred for reality TV.

I'll be very sad if (read: most likely when) Fox doesn't pick it up to series. I think it has the potential to be a good show, especially with RDM running it. Because honestly, RDM has started to have the type of following (but is nowhere near this level yet) Joss Whedon has. Whedon fans will follow him anywhere and give everything he does a chance (I speak from experience). The same goes with JJ Abrams, though he doesn't always stick to the same genre. And I think RDM has that ability now after he did so well with BSG. I will admit that it was the first reason I tuned in to Virtuality.

I'd definitely watch it though if it happened to get picked up.

Sister T said...

I finally got around to watching it on Hulu and was surprised at how much I liked it. I was expecting to be turned off by the reality show element, but somehow it worked for me. I think the psychologist made it work for me. He was the least likeable character and I was instantly mistrustful of him (was I mentally type-casting his British accent?) but he seemed honest in his confessionals and he had the proper reaction to the "glitch" in the Vert modules. I wanted the Captain/Commander to be strong, good, and right, but his decisions were flawed. So that dichotomy sucked me in.

I also was mentally laughing at McPoyle showing up to mess with people (until the rape). Aren't the It's Always Sunny guys developing a Space comedy, Boldly Going Nowhere, where a space ship crew sits around and wait for stuff to happen? McPoyle should show up in that show too as a puzzling and annoying glitch in the system.

Tracey said...

Oh, one other little thing that someone reminded me of: I was amused by their little change to the lyrics of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." The original lyrics are "... and we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home." (at a time when "gay" just meant "happy") They changed it to "... and we'll all feel great..." And of course, the actor very strongly said "great" to make sure you knew what he was saying...