In the late nineteen nineties, quite a few people happened to decide
to write stories set largely in fake realities. The films Dark City,
The Truman Show, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and eXistenZ all
fit into this theme, as did the TV show Harsh Realm.
Harsh Realm was adapted from a comic to a TV series by Chris Carter.
Not having read the comic, I don't know how faithful the adaptation
was, but the look and feel of the show is often very reminiscent of
The X-Files, particularly Mark Snow's score.
The plot evolves around a computer simulation of "a world" (consisting
solely of the United States of America). Had this world been populated
with eXistenZ-esque simplistic characters or Matrix construct-esque
sets of twins, this would have been fine. Instead, the writers opted
to claim that the United States military used census data to faithfully
recreate every person in the USA, including not just their vague
opinions but their complete personalities right down to their quirks,
mannerisms and innermost thoughts. Various outlandish claims like
this got in the way of my ability to go along with the story. It
patently couldn't happen.
Then there's the preaching. On more than a few occasions, Harsh
Realm seems like little more than thinly disguised Christian propaganda.
I'm not even talking the good-versus-evil, benevolent-guiding-force
stories of Quantum Leap. I'm talking downright propaganda that
equates non-belief in a single god with fascist rule, looks down
upon unbelieving heathens, and portrays the clergy as selfish. I
realise that American fiction in general is very theistic and
specifically Christian in nature, and so maybe the writers can't be
particularly blamed for such allusions. I was fine with the subtle
Jesus references in Robocop, and even managed to put up with the
imagery in the later Terminator Salvation, but Harsh Realm is just
plain preaching to the point of almost forgetting its pretence of
telling a story.
For these two reasons, an implausible scenario and excessive preaching,
I think Fox's management were right to cut the series short. However,
this introduced another problem. The show's creators were given
very little warning that their work had been axed, and so most of
Harsh Realm's episodes do very little to advance the overall plot
of the story arc, being written under the mistaken belief that they'd
have plenty of time to write the good episodes later. It's possible
the show may have gotten interesting had the main story been fully
explored, but at the end of the day, there are much better shows out
All in all, this is a fairly interesting show, but not a patch on
the various films that much better explore the storytelling
possibilities of fake realities in far less time.