Harsh Realm is the virtual world featured in the sci-fi TV series of the same name, by X-Files creator Chris Carter. Harsh Realm is a digital copy of the real world, altered to simulate the results of nuclear war. It was taken over by a dictator-to-be named Santiago, who has plans to conquer the real world after he completes his takeover of Harsh Realm. Hobbes, the main character, was one of many sent in to kill Santiago - but few risk their lives against Santiago's army to do so anymore.

The show was based on a comic book by James D. Hundall and Andrew Paquette. When the creators noticed the credits read "Created by Chris Carter", they sued Fox to get properly credited, and now the credits also read “Inspired by the Harsh Realm comic book series, Created by James D. Hudnall and Andrew Paquette, Published by Harris Publications, Inc.”

This show was a very promising adventure series, but it was saddled with an unfortunate timeslot, which is the kiss of death for any new TV show.

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 there.

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.

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