21 November 2001 | lcae1
Never Given a Chance
Harsh Realm was an intriguing premise which was unfairly dismissed out of hand before it got a chance to show what it could become. Aside from movies such as 'The Matrix', or if you want to go back even earlier, 'Tron', the concept of virtual reality is still largely unexplored in popular television and cinema. Had it been allowed to develop naturally, who knows where Harsh Realm might have led us as it explored the worlds within our world.
Scott Bairstow, the quietly earnest Tom Hobbes, and D.B. Sweeney, throwing a more cynical view on things as Michael Pinocchio, were great leading men, giving wonderfully nuanced performances that were just beginning to grow in strength as they worked out their characters quirks and foibles. Supporting players Rachel Hayward as Florence and Max Martini as Mel Waters did much with little, while Terry O'Quinn's Santiago was a suitably driven dictator and Sarah Jane Redmond added many shades of grey to the ambiguous Inga. Perhaps the only performance that failed to impress came from Samantha Mathis as the saccherine Sophie, but given time she to could have shone.
That's not to say it was all good. The dog, although very cute, quickly became a plot liability, while episodes like 'Three Percenters' and 'Leviathan' were hardly stand-outs and the pilot needed a second and even third viewing for this reviewer to understand the complex story line. But in the mix you also get episodes such as 'Reunion', 'Manus Domini' and 'Cincinnati' which are rich in character development and great stories to boot.
Who knows what might have happened had Harsh Realm been allowed to run a full season. It might not have lasted the distance, but then again, maybe it could have. With careful nurturing it could have turned into a thoughtful, contemplative show that questioned our very reason for being, or else simply a rollicking good adventure series.
As it is, Harsh realm lives on in the minds of a few dedicated fans and is a prime example of why nervous network executives should give second thought about pulling the plug too early.