Take the first starship from Earth headed to a faraway planet, add 12 people confined together on board for a 10-year mission, and it begins to sound like the ultimate reality show waiting to happen. Throw in some virtual reality that allows the characters' avatars to interact as if they are in a holodeck, and you've got Fox's two-hour movie "event," Virtuality, which premieres tonight at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Oh, and there's one other element ... mystery.
Virtuality follows the journey of the crew of the Phaeton, which began on a mission of exploration. However, the mission changed when it was discovered that Earth would be habitable only for another 100 years. Suddenly, the fate of the human race depends on the ship's successful journey.
In the pilot/movie, the Phaeton is about to reach the "go"/"no go" point. If the captain decides to go, there's no turning back for any of them. The question of whether to go is complicated when problems pop up on the ship and a crew member contracts an illness. Beyond that, there seems to be a bug in the VR that's putting the crew through disturbing deviations in their simulations.
But is it a bug in the system? Or is one of the crew literally messing with their minds? What's up with the captain (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)? And is Mission Control telling them the entire truth about what's happening on Earth?
Through their trip the cameras are rolling and capturing it all as the reality show goes on to huge ratings on Earth on the future Fox network.
Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor's intricate pilot didn't make Fox's fall schedule, but apparently the network likes it enough to put it out there and see how it does on a Friday night. It's easy to see more than a little Battlestar Galactica influence, not in story, but in style.
Virtuality follows 12 complex, fascinating and often unlikable characters through a multifaceted story that would have made a compelling series. Perhaps not a highly rated compelling series, however. The series is edgy and feels a bit distant, and not because it takes place in outer space. Still, it would have been a series worth watching.
On the other hand, as a movie, Virtuality leaves us hanging in every way you can imagine. There are plenty of surprises and questions asked. But don't expect any answers.
Virtuality was directed by Peter Berg and stars Sienna Guillory, James D'Arcy, Ritchie Coster, Erik Jensen, Omar Metwally, Kerry Bishé, Joy Bryant, Nelson Lee, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Gene Farber, Clea Duvall and Jimmi Simpson.