Virtuality Premiere, Pilot, or One and Done?

The Virtuality pilot aired on FOX last night but I didn’t get around to watching it until this morning. I’d been looking forward to it a great deal due to its pedigree – Ron Moore, Michael Taylor, Gail Berman, and Peter Berg in various creative capacities – and the promise held in its premise: a dozen scientist/explorers aboard an experimental interstellar ship who were also the focus of a reality TV show and who were also dealing with a VR system with some glitches. With Ron Moore at the helm the risk of the show being an amalgam of every bad holodeck episode of ST:TNG was as possible as the show exploring the edge of reality and humanity.

So what was the verdict?

I didn’t like it.

I mean, it was fine and all for FOX. Better than Dollhouse for sure ((I’m speaking pilot to pilot comparisons here. I couldn’t stomach watching more than that one hour of Dollhouse, despite the claims of spontaneous regrowth of hair by bald men who watched the fabled sixth episode.)) and probably better than FOX’s other science fiction-ish shows. But not really very good.

I don’t watch reality TV because I don’t enjoy watching idiots doing stupid things; likewise, I try not to watch scripted television where people behave in irrational ways. I don’t like when someone runs upstairs to escape the crazed killer or when a master criminal lets his nemesis escape ((The exception of course being cartoonish villains such as Blofeld, The Riddler, or Dick Cheney.)) Watching Virtuality I saw a lot of idiots and stupid behavior. I also saw a lot of very, VERY wrong science and organization.

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.

The various Stargate incarnations had this problem in an interesting way. The movie and then first few seasons of Stargate: SG1 dealt with the gates as though they were almost magical devices. As soon as they’d reached the point where they could interface with the DHDs with their Dell laptops, could read the control crystals and reprogram them, the show lost a lot of its charm and became less plausible rather than moreso.

Here’s a rundown of the bad science and bad understanding of command in Virtuality.

  1. The pusher plates weren’t anywhere near thick enough to shield the ship from the radiation of the nukes. Or, for that matter, to actually hold up and provide acceleration. There was no indication of an EM bubble so I’m pretty sure we were supposed to accept the physical plates were all the structure provided.
  2. That’s not how “go/no go” works. Period. When you have a long-range mission with a flight surgeon (emphasis on the word surgeon for a good reason) you can’t go if he is sick. Particularly when, in this case, he has Parkinson’s and can’t perform surgery anymore.
  3. On a ship with medical officers, those officers actually have the power to make some decisions (for good reason.) So the psych officer wouldn’t need the commander’s consent to shut down the VR; he’d have the power to do so unilaterally.
  4. Unless they were truly worried about the performance of the ship and needed a six month shakeout cruise, there was no reason to go to Neptune. The gravity slingshot from the planet would be negligible relative to the acceleration from the Orion drive. And if they really wanted a slingshot, Venus, Mars, or Jupiter would probably work well enough (depending on their position in orbit relative to the final destination.)
  5. Oh, and if you can get to Neptune in six months, you’re already using a pretty advanced propulsion system. That’s an average speed of ~.09% c which, for a ship that size, would require a hefty amount of energy to achieve. That much acceleration would pretty much dwarf the slingshot you’d get from Neptune. Assuming they’d taken a straight shot to Neptune and hadn’t used the planets closer in to accelerate. In which case they were maintaining an even higher average speed.
  6. Oh, and if you’re closing in on Neptune, which is just over four light hours from Earth, it wouldn’t take 90 or 100 minutes to deliver a message back to Earth. It would take, you know, just over four hours.
  7. To quote Spock: “his pattern indicates two-dimensional thinking.” If you can accelerate your large ship so fast, why stay in the plane of the ecliptic at all? Why not just use your super-fast propulsion system to get out of the plane and then engage the Orion drive? And again…what the hell is this other crazy powerful engine?
  8. When whatshername – the botanist/psych’s wife/commander’s mistress person – commented that the piece of equipment she and Pike were carrying into the airlock was heavy it made me realize they were operating under a full one gee of acceleration in the rotating pods. Why? Why not rotate slower? And why not slow down the acceleration temporarily since they were going to be exiting for their EVA from that pod? I know it’s a pain to film zero gee but you could definitely do much less, comment on it, and not have to do anything special to film it. A throwaway exchange like, “I feel like I could leap a tall building in this low gravity.” “Keep your tights on, Superman,” ((Except funny and not crap like that.)) would have been enough to explain it to the audience.

I don’t feel bad that FOX passed on this. If the numbers were really great or Peter Berg convinces his buddies at DirecTV to do a co-pro and this becomes a series, I doubt I’ll watch it.

All this did was make me wish AMC would hurry up and get cracking on their Red Mars miniseries already. If that’s done right, we’ll see science fiction with an emphasis on the science.