Friday, July 13, 2007

VR.5 (TV)

Created by Jeannine Renshaw
Starring Lori Singer, Michael Easton, Anthony Head, David McCallum, Louise Fletcher, Will Patton.
IMDB Entry

Anthony Head, Lori Singer, & Michael Easton of VR.5VR.5 was a show ahead of its time.  This doomed it to failure.

With The Matrix, and other films (not to mention virtual worlds like Second Life), the idea of virtual reality is just entering the mainstream.  But back in 1995, it was still a new, far-out, science fictional concept.  And setting a show based on virtual reality was a long shot.

The problem of virtual reality in fiction and films is that, since anything can happen, solutions to problems come out of the woodwork (this has happened as far back asTron)  If the hero has a problem, they can do something that had never been established as a possibility, since, well, anything is possible.  But if anything is possible, you have to work very hard on the script to keep things plausible.

VR.5 handled this problem with a great deal of imagination.  It starred Lori Singer as Sydney Bloom, a phone company employee and computer nerd who discovers how to enter into virtual reality at a level that gives her the ability to enter the dreams of others.  Her ability brings her to the attention of the Committee, which tries to use her for its own purposes.  She's assigned Dr. Frank Morgan (Will Patton) to be her guide and mentor.

I have to admit the first episode was not spectacular. It was the third episode that showed me that they were dealing with more than just routine:  Dr. Morgan was killed.

It was a shock.  He had every sign of being a regular (including being listed in the opening credits), and you don't kill off a regular in the third show.

The next show, her new mentor appeared:  Oliver Sampson, played by Rupert Giles  . . . I mean Anthony Stewart Head (he didn't use "Stewart" at the time).  The parallel to Giles on Buffy was uncanny:  Sampson was a little stronger, and not quite as witty, but otherwise the Giles we all learned to know and love.  I have no doubt that Joss Whedon saw Head's performance here when casting for Buffy (prior to this, Head's was best known in the US for a series of coffee commercials).

The show began to find more and more levels as it advanced.  Sydney learned that the Committee had its own agenda, and that Sampson could not always be trusted, since she wasn't sure whose best interests he had in mind. It focused in on the search for her father (David McCallum), who had been looking into VR and categorized its levels.  Sydney was at VR.5 -- where you could access the subconscious, but that was halfway up toe VR.10, where anything was possible.  She felt her abilities expand, and learned more about the Committee -- its factions and plans.

The show had some real depth to it, both in plotting and style. The VR sequences were designed as bizarre and surreal dreams, with imaginative use of splashes of color. They all had a kind of dream logic, which made the work.

The show ran ten episodes (there were 13 filmed), then cut off at a cliffhanger. Though there were fans, it was not enough for a DVD release.

The biggest casualty of the cancellation was Lori Singer.  She was a terrific presence and actress (she's also a model and professional cellist -- a highly unusual triple threat), but has worked very little since.  I would love to see her again.

Definitely a show worthy of a DVD.

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