The one bit of happiness we should take from the failure of this pilot – double episode, re-edited to give it as much of a movie ending feel as possible – is that if it had succeeded, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau would never have played Jaime Lannister on “Game Of Thrones”. As a film, this is sort of disappointing, as the ending gives us no resolution; but as a pilot for a TV show it’s amazing, giving us a new world, a fascinating plot, an interesting side-mystery and a ship (almost) full of great actors.
It’s an unspecified time in the future (reference is made to the centenary of the invention of some propulsion system which we don’t have yet, or which we do have and I just misheard). A government / corporation effort to send a human-ed ship to Proxima Centauri to investigate a potentially habitable planet suddenly becomes a lot more important when it’s announced that irreversible environmental disaster will leave the Earth effectively dead in a hundred years. Integrated into the ship’s crew is the producer and presenter of a reality TV show, as that’s partly how it’s being funded, along with sponsorship on their outfits and so on. As the journey will take ten years, they’ve brought on board super-advanced virtual reality headsets to give the crew some “privacy”, to relieve boredom, and so on.
If you’ve got even a passing love of hard sci-fi, that paragraph should be enough to make you really want to see the show, but the name of Ronald D Moore should push you over the edge. This was the show he made after the end of “Battlestar Galactica” and was the start of several years of failed pitches and pilots and so on – perhaps people had seen the awful last half-season of BSG and had no confidence in him going forward? But he’s an incredibly talented writer and this is just more evidence of that.
The cast is one more reason why I’m really surprised this never made it to series (although I suspect the main one is that it would’ve cost a lot). Aside from Waldau, there’s Sienna Guillory, Clea DuVall and Jimmi Simpson, none of which are A-listers or anything, but they’re all interesting enough to guarantee people watching. There’s a good framing device, an interesting visual, the VR module gave them endless plot ideas, and it’s just that vague air of disappointment that we didn’t get years of hard sci-fi fun.
One of the main characters is in a wheelchair, and there’s a gay couple on there too. The first thought was “it’s good that these things aren’t as important in the future”, but then the reality TV framing device made a “thing” of the couple, which seemed out of place for a century in the future; and I thought “what happens if there’s an emergency when they’re a light year from earth? Would they really have hired a guy in a wheelchair?” Perhaps they’d have explained that in a later episode, or something. There are a few moments where you think they really ought to have sorted out the power structure before they set off, or made sure they had people who were prepared to take orders on there. But then you’d have “Star Trek”, I suppose.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi, you’ll no doubt be comparing this in your head to “Defying Gravity”, the rather similar show (about exploring the Solar System this time) that premiered in 2009 and made it to a first series before being cancelled. They both had huge amounts of potential that was never fulfilled, sadly, and similarly strong casts – plus, the double failure has virtually ensured we’re not getting another show like this for a long time. That was literally described as “Grey’s Anatomy In Space” so I get the feeling that “Virtuality” would have become the stronger series. But it’s a sad debate for 5 years ago.
If you’re just interested in watching a movie with a beginning, middle and end, then this might not be the one for you, but if you want to see what might have been, there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here.
Rating: thumbs up