Virtuality – amazing, extraordinary, completely irrelevant


I have, for some time, wanted to set forth my thoughts on the most exciting TV show I’ve seen since the early days of Battlestar.  That’s no coincidence, because, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, Virtuality and Battlestar are authored by the same creative team.  The difference that on show will go down in history as a work of art that changed how we experience a sci-fi series, while the other will just fade away into nothingness, lucky to even become a footnote.

That is certainly unfair, because of the overall quality of the writing, production and performances.  Don’t believe me?  Check it out while you still can.  Just in case you didn’t just get back from watching the ‘pilot’ episode on hulu or somewhere else, let me say the following:

SPOILER ALERT!!  Proceed at your own risk!!

In the end, all I care about is whether or not it’s good TV.  Is it compelling?  Does it move me?  Is it exciting?  Do I care about the characters and story?  With sci-fi, I’m not so worried about how ‘realistic’ something is.  A show can be completely fanciful and even absurd in it’s premise and still be a completely kick-ass piece of drama.

From the very beginning, the viewer has constant reminders of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I think that’s an extremely dangerous trick.  It’s one thing to be Quentin Tarentino drawing references to obscure movies from the 70’s, but Virtuality presents not one, but many references to 2001, an iconic movie that everyone has seen.  If you want people to think about that film and your film in the same moment, then you’d better have one-hell of a product.  Otherwise, you’re just going to look like a stupid jerk.

There is an all-powerful computer (Jean (gene?) instead of HAL) that may or may not be responsible for numerous problems on the ship.  The problems start with the virtual reality rig that gives crew members a chance to blow off steam and get out of the loneliness and isolation of a ten-year space mission.  That sense of isolation is played pitch-perfect in 2001 and that’s the reference standard.  Does Virtuality measure up?  All I can say is, after watching it twice, it’s pretty good.  There is a strong sense, especially by the end of the ‘pilot’, that this crew is completely cut-off from anything or anyone they used to know, love or care about.  That’s a pretty cool trick.

I think the Battlestar guys overplayed their hand, and that’s why we’re not getting any more of this show from Fox, or SciFi (or SyFy) or anyone else.  They’re taking a major shot at the absurdity of reality TV while asking the viewer to question if what’s going on in the crew’s virtual reality modules is actually real and the disaster of their mission is not real.  Got it?

Then you’ve got a multitude of stories involving: (1) a character who is confined to a wheelchair, (2) a young gay couple, (3) a young het couple where the woman is pregnant and hasn’t told her partner, (4) a husband and wife where the wife is having an affair, but only in the virtual reality modules, with another crew member, (5) a doctor who has Alzheimer’s, (6) a reality TV program which is being filmed while the mission is going on and being produced in real-time by a crew member who also serves as the ship’s shrink, (7) a psychotic killer who only lives in the virtual reality program, (8) an engineer who is writing letters to his deceased young son, (9) and a computer that’s supposed to run the ship, but has no answers about why everything sucks so bad for these folks.  And, oh, by the way, the mission will take ten years and the fate of every human on earth depends on their success, unless that’s not real either.

Ron Moore said he had a plan at the beginning of Battlestar.  I don’t believe that he did.  As good as Battlestar was, it meandered from time to time.  I think that’s the nature of even the best series television.  There are so many variables and so little time between  episode to make evrything hang together.  And the job, as I’ve said before, is not to write a beginning, middle and end.  The job in TV is to keep the thing going: keep the ratings up, keep the sponsors happy, keep the viewers coming back, keep feeding the fire.

With the number of variables that are set in motion in Virtuality, it’s impossible to imagine that anything more than the roughest outline really exists at the outset.  Do they fail or succeed?  What’s real and what’s virtual?  Viewers want these questions answered if the series is to have any vitality.  The show runner wants to give us just enough to keep us coming back, but never  close the deal until the show is done.  Battlestar presented a world of great variety and infinite possibility.  Virtuality is just twelve people and their enormous problems.  I see TV exec’s thinking that, at best this is a copy of Lost and, at worst, it’s extremely tedious and melodramatic.

So, in light of all that, it may be for the best that the series is a dead letter.  I am sad that it, like the crew of the doomed starship, will slip over the ‘edge of never’, but what we are left with is a precious and ephemeral container of possibilities, unrealized, but REAL all the same.  Watch Ritchie Coster‘s turn as nuclear physicist Jimmy Johnson, and tell me that performance isn’t REALly powerful.  Listen to the soundtrack by Wendy & Lisa.  Watch the filmmakers make reference to the finest sci-fi in the galaxy and still produce something exciting, frightening, compelling and powerful.

Maybe somehow, some way, the show will find life.  That could be wonderful or it could be a mess.  But the two hours with which we are left, at least for the moment, holds up as some of the best TV I have seen.  Please watch.

I don’t even know what to call this post

I guess it’s another catch-all.  The holiday weekend is pretty much here, so everything is starting to slow down, and that is perfectly fine with me.  I’ve been enjoying (NOT!) some bowel distress over the past 24 hours, so I’m glad that there’s no work tomorrow.  I prep’d my butt off for an Arbitration on Wednesday and it went south on me because the panel didn’t like my client – they actually said that to me after.  Hours and hours of prep down the tubes.

I’m just about done with Greg van Eekhout’s (like Vonnegut?) first novel – Norse Code.  Despite the title, it’s actually been quite a good piece of fantasy fiction.  If I were in another line of work, perhaps I could have read this book over a weekend, but with distractions and trials, it has taken a bit longer.  Great action, well written, and sexy cover.  What more could you ask for?  As a rumination on Ragnarok, it’s a bit more fluid and entertaining than Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  The retelling of myth is a bit more fluid in Gaiman’s work, but the van Eekhout has been a more cohesive read.  I certainly liked them both, but in being a bit less ambitious, Norse Code is actually more fun.  Although, I don’t think Gaiman was going for fun.

Company’s coming to mpomy HQ to help celebrate the holiday.  We’re looking forward to Oscar and his mom and dad.  Pictures will undoubtedly be posted.  Also, we’ve arranged a trip to Morris Arboretum to hang out in nature’s beauty with my mom and our guests.  It should be just the ticket after my beleaguered week.

Over at, the insanity continues.  we’ve got Mr. Delaruss now actively blogging, which is great news.  I’ll also try to do little more micro-music because it’s so damn fun.  Maybe Oscar can help with the next composition.

We have also found out that a cousin has breast cancer – which absolutely sucks.  She’s got a bunch of little kids and she’s almost definitely going to have to go through some of the most heinous shit.  But she’s got a great husband (Em’s 1st cousin) and they’re within shouting distance of top notch healthcare.  It’s still going to be a bumpy ride for that family, so we’ll be sending the good vibes that way as the situation and treatment regimen become clearer.

And lastly, I’ll be trying to get Em to watch Virtuality tonight.  It seems like good, low-impact fun before our guests arrive, and I need to take another look before I write up my thoughts.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Virtuality Paranoia – How do we know what is real?

I am amused and encouraged by the infiltration of one of the show’s main themse ( how do we know what is real?) into the discussion of the series’ non-existent future. It’s almost as if critics refuse to believe that something that looks so amazing would get put in the garbage by FOX. If there is some ulterior motive to airing that program on a Friday in the middle of the summer (basically the network cutting it’s losses and filling up otherwise dead space ), and the
Inexplicable sinking of a small fortune into marketing and promoting something that’s not there. It is strange.

The show is dead. There will be no series. And, as if to drive the point home, the reason that the show is dead is because the ratings were a disaster. And the reason for that was that Virtuality aired aginst specials about major celebrities who had just … died.

Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality – Fox ain’t buyin’ it

I just finished watching Virtuality, and I have to say that I loved it. It’s way past my bedtime and I’ll give a fuller review tomorrow. I can definitely see why Fox is passing on the series, but to get to see just two hours of the madness that might have been is still pretty satisfying.

Shirt version: if this thing gets green lit ( and I hope it does), Moore has given himself a massive canvas to work with. It may yet happen and it may even be profitable, but this is Moore looking to cash in on some hard earned Battlestar cred. If Virtuality happens, there is a risk of self-indulgence. Moore would proudly say that it is his intention to push the envelope of narrative to it’s outer limits.

Based on what we see in this two-hour pilot, he may hve gone beyond the limit.

Short stuff…

I’m very pleased to have wrapped up the Squarepuser / Artist of the Week project.  It was great to go through all of that stuff, especially the ’97 show from Shinjuku Liquid Lounge.  I’ve never seen that one posted, except for the torrent i got a year or two ago.  The torrent is long gone (off the Dime tracker, anyway) and I’ve never seen the show posted elsewhere.  The best part is that it came with no track listing.  That forced me to listen to these jams over and over again to get the song titles right.  Hopefully this whole exercise will tide me over until August.

The project is coming along nicely.  FBDN himself has proven a capable and attentive webmaster and the resource is really stimulating our collective creative juices.  The best part is that the sight is active, even if not terribly well visited.  We’re not exactly counting hits, but a quick google search this morning revealed that if you just put in the ‘fretbuzz’ we come up tenth – first page, baby!  That’s pretty strong, considering the (most likely) scanty readership.  This means that our updating (sometimes a few times per day!) is paying off.

I recently found an Aimee Mann bootleg from the Bachelor No. 2 / Magnolia era.  It’s a superb recording and there is a sense of commitment and passion in her performance.  So, that will get posted this week, along with my comments on this troubling artist.

The work week ended with an aggrieved father who attempted to strangle his daughters killer during sentencing.  I was waiting for me cases to be called when, on this other case, the Judge consented to hearing from the victim’s family prior to sentencing.  Big mistake.  Now, that’s what I call Courtroom Drama.  Everything was put under control quickly by the highly skilled (and much appreciated) Camden Sheriffs.  Nice work, people.

The next work week begins with the deposition of an officer that killed a 15-year-old boy who allegedly threatened him with a clothes iron.  Cop shot that boy dead.  I’ve go the kid’s mom as a client in a wrongful death / Civil Rights / Excessive Force (yuh think?) case.  So, I’ve got a lot of work to do today to get ready for this clown.  He’ll be well prepared.

Sci-Fi stuff of note includes Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality which was on Friday night.  I haven’t checked it out yet, but maybe tonight if the work goes well.  I’m excited about sci-fi that is strongly connected to this world and this planet.  It’s a nice break from faraway planets and alien races.  Another project that appears to work along similar lines is Moon, which is getting a UK release next month.  I’m not sure if we’ll be getting this one in the U.S.

And, speaking of movies, we went with my mom to see The Proposal yesterday afternoon.  Betty White was HUGE!