The Harsher They Come

Chris Carter's latest slice of millennial dread, Harsh Realm, takes the fun out of the apocalypse

And so while the action cooks, too often the dialogue suggests writers chained to some abstract meta-story at the cost of moment-to-moment credibility. As a result, perhaps, their dialogue resembles stale Hemingway, like "a man runs, or turns and fights." Didn't Rocky say that? "In Harsh Realm," Mike Pinocchio snarls, "kindness is when your buddy shoots you or beats you...and doesn't rape your woman." Ooooh...now that's scary. And again: "Judgment Day in Harsh Realm is when someone points a gun at you." That sustained advertising campaign doesn't bode well--why keep poking viewers to notice how harsh Harsh Realm is.

Maybe the program is aiming lower, for a war movie's bedrock stereotypes ("I just wanna go home to my girl," Bairstow pleads again and again, all crew-cut earnestness). But then why bother with what is essentially intellectual window-dressing? Good Chris Carter elegantly connects the dots: abductions to Roswell to government plots to alien invasion. Bad Carter, in contrast, fills the page with scribble, which is what we have here: a product as hermetically sealed as those oxygen tents filled with hapless humans on The X-Files.

The greatest flaw in Harsh Realm is its failure to admit (or recognize?) that cosmic dread is as much video-game fodder these days as it is lurking fear. Alongside Y2K panic is a sense of apocalypse-as-funhouse; it's eschatology as edgy adolescent glee. Part of what made The Matrix so stoopidly adorable was the sick-joke prospect of Keanu blankly saving our world.

Circuit of darkness: Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) goes in search of his virtual Kurtz in Harsh Realm
Circuit of darkness: Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) goes in search of his virtual Kurtz in Harsh Realm

And so we can love Harsh Realm's chases, while still wishing that Carter might embrace his inner Batman fan. This show could be a lot more fun if the auteur's high seriousness didn't blind him to reality: Sometimes we're all partying because it's 1999.

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