Harsh Realm: The Complete Series (DVD review).

November 4, 2014 | By | Reply More

Unknown to the general population, there is a digital military training ground called Harsh Realm, from which the title of this short-lived 1999 TV series is named. Lieutenant Tom Hobbes (actor Scott Bairstow), an heroic military officer, is tricked into ‘Harsh Realm’ with the order to kill a man called General Omar Santiago (actor Terry O’Quinn) who is getting in and out of there illegally and corrupting the reality. The discovery that he wasn’t the only one tasked that mission and many of the others have given up, he has to find his own way but not before he coerces Mike Pinnochio (actor D.B. Sweeney) as well as mute medic Florence (actress Rachel Hayward) to help him.


Much of these nine episodes are either trying to get at Santiago or exploring the artificial reality which bears an uncanny likeness to the real Earth. It’s only when people die that they go digital and don’t leave any trace. Many of the population are digital facsimiles than real people transferred in. The process of transfer is show but I have to wonder how the process was achieved world-wide or to get people, unsuspectingly, like Hobbes’ mother in there in the first place. I mean, you would suspect something was going on if a photocopier/scanner light was passed over you, wouldn’t you?

The series was cut off after nine episodes because it wasn’t being supported by the channel that paid for it and didn’t get enough viewers watching, nor was it sold abroad and hence so many years down the line, is the first time I’ve had a chance to watch it. Just goes to show what a good advertising campaign or word of mouth can do. As ‘Harsh Realm’ was a product of Chris Carter’s 10:13 production team, you would have thought things would have been different. In one of the extras, Carter and key producer Daniel Sackheim thinks things might have been different had they’d been on cable rather than network broadcast because the former is used to growing from smaller audiences. Then again, they were also after a new series to keep the momentum going and hindsight does suggest that ‘Harsh Realm’ was too complicated for an American audience to jump into.

While I was watching the early episodes I was trying to place where I’d seen Scott Bairstow before and then made the connection to ‘The X-Files’ story ‘Miracle Man’. Indeed, various people or things were used from that source, including Gillian Anderson doing a voice-over in the pilot episode. It’s interesting how many times the house from ‘The X-Files’ episode ‘Family’ has been used and redressed here as well.

With the fourth and ninth episodes, the mute Florence literally vanishes for the story and neither soldier seems to miss her. I wonder if things would have been different had she spoken up?

Looking objectively, as with many first season US shows, ‘Harsh Realm’ was still finding its feet and they would have probably have focused more on what worked had they reached a second season. When you consider that all Carter’s other series landed running correctly, going back to American type on this appears odd, even by their standards. Reading behind the lines, I don’t think even they knew quite how to handle the subject, especially as ‘The Matrix’ was released at the same time. As I never read the source material by James Hudnell and Andrew Paquette, I have no idea how much they took. Carter points out that they turned the idea upside down for their own use moving to military than detective. Certainly, it could have done with a lot more reminders that they were in a digital world and Hobbes should certainly accepted that, to paraphrase, that its only a game, from the start. Mind you, make a mistake and you’re dead in both realities should have made everyone be careful than so reckless and seeking out who was real and who digital. I bet you don’t get that option in your computer games at home. You would have thought it would have made more sense to have sent a psychopath in there but I suspect the military wanted a surgical assassination and preserve the digital life. Likewise, you would also have thought that there would have been a way to monitor what was going on from outside.

Whatever, the series is gone and I doubt if it’ll ever be considered for resurrection and just a minor blip on Chris Carter’s resume, even if it has meant no major new TV material from him since. For the rest of us, if there’s another digital world created on TV, then it should be used as a template of certain things to be careful of doing. ‘Harsh Realm’ on some levels works very well but too early for digital worlds and was just too real to make it a game.

GF Willmetts

October 2014

(region 2 DVD: pub: 20th Century Fox 27302DVD. 3 DVD 381 minutes 9 * 42 minute episodes. Price: about £ 5.00 (UK) if you know where to look)

cast: Scott Bairstow D.B. Sweeney, Rachel Hayward and Terry O’Quinn

languages and subtitles: English and French

check out website: www.fox.co.uk


Category: Scifi, TV

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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