Friday, June 5, 2009

Fox's new pilot Virtuality brings the holodeck to NASA

Via Andrew Liptak's Worlds in a Grain of Sand.

The pilot movie for Fox's potential new series, Virtuality, has been moved up to June 26, at 8 Eastern, presumably on Hulu soon thereafter. It's helmed by Ronald D. Moore, the man behind the Battlestar Galactica reboot, much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and a decent chunk of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is the first I've heard of the show, but it seems the original airdate was July 4th, which even Fox realizes would be suicidal because even sci-fi nerds won't be inside in front of our TVs on July 4th. The press release:
The crew of the Phaeton is approaching the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space. With the fate of Earth in their hands, the pressure is intense. 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 they realize a glitch in the system has unleashed a virus on to the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, their lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth in the World Broadcast Premiere of VIRTUALITY airing Friday, June 26 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
I'll be honest: the description doesn’t particularly turn me on. The whole VR thing seems so ’90s now, with the element of "reality-TV in space!" added to make it topical to the 2000s, which are themselves almost over. And the ship is a clunkier Serenity with a satellite tower, but from the costumes it looks like they're going for a relatively near-future setting, so I can see why they opted for something that looks just slightly post-NASA, not a design like the Starships Enterprise (Starship Enterprises?). Essentially it's a series of holodeck episodes set on the ship from 2001.

Nevertheless I’m definitely willing to give this a try since any new (read: wholly original) space-travel sci-fi is very welcome right now, with Battlestar Galactica off the air and no Star Trek series foreseeable anytime soon. The first sentence of the release reminds me of J. Michael Straczynski’s short-lived Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade, where the mission was to search the galaxy for a cure to a nanovirus plague that would devastate the Earth within five years. (It turns out that Bill Lumbergh makes a good starship captain after all.)

io9’s script peek from May 2008 looks respectable as well, with some elements that make it sound a lot more interesting. I.e. the ship's doctor has Parkinson's Disease, which means they risk losing their doctor during the mission, but on the other hand the next mission attempt would not be for another 20 years.

It remains to be seen how many of those script elements have made it into the final series, of course. I'm just hoping this is one of those shows whose execution is better than it sounds on the label.

UPDATE (via sleepysheepie): The FutonCritic reviews the pilot, explains the various subplots, and deems the show "without a doubt worth your time."

Earth's first starship is The Phaeton. Its mission: search for extraterrestrial life around Epsilon Eridani, one of our nearest Sun-like stars. Its 10-year journey is being financed by The Consortium, a mega-corporation that hopes to make back its investment through various sponsorships, most notably a "Big Brother"-esque reality show about the ship's 12 astronauts.

True nerds will note that Babylon 5 was stationed above the third planet of the Epsilon Eridani system, although of course this star is located only 10.5 light-years away and has therefore appeared frequently in science fiction.

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