Other than ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dark Angel,’ my third choice for the science fiction TV program that was prematurely canceled (by FOX, naturally) and deserved to have at least one more season is ‘Harsh Realm.’ The show was unfairly trashed by critics who have little or no understanding of cyberpunk and virtual reality. Only nine episodes were created and aired starting in October of 1999. I consider all the eps to be high quality except for the mediocre number five. You can read a synopsis of each episode here.
The military virtual reality program known as Harsh Realm began on October 13, 1995. When first created, the world was identical to our own. The military detonated a suitcase nuke in the virtual New York City to test out the consequences of this act if it were to occur in the real world. General Santiago subsequently turns rogue, hijacking the program and becomes a brutal dictator that rules over Harsh Realm.
The main character in the series is Lieutenant Tom Hobbes. He has a pregnant fiancee in the real world named Sophie Green. He is ready to leave the military in order to spend more time with her, but the military wants him for one last mission. Hobbes is taken to a secret location and tricked into entering Harsh Realm on a more permanent basis than he planned. Once in the virtual world, he finds out that he must kill Santiago in order to “win” the game and earn his freedom.
In one review, Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote this after watching the pilot: “If most of these Harsh Realm characters are virtual, why should we care? And if the show is playing out inside Hobbes’ brain, why do any of the events depicted matter?”
What Mr. Owen does not understand is that we care because we want to see Hobbes escape Harsh Realm, and because the virtual characters who interact with him can influence whether he escapes or not. It’s obvious from the pilot that Hobbes is not the only one plugged into Harsh Realm. There are hundreds and perhaps even thousands of other humans jacked into the system. The military wants Santiago defeated so they can regain control of the VR program, and they don’t care how many people they have to virtually imprison to make this happen.
All ‘Harsh Realm’ episodes are available for purchase as a DVD package.