When Chris Carter unveiled “The X-Files” in 1993, it premiered with little fanfare and no expectations. Tomorrow, when Carter’s newest series, “Harsh Realm,” debuts on Fox, things will be a little different – but, Carter insists, they will also be quite similar.
“The trick,” Carter said earlier this week, “is going to be to get people to come to the show and hook into it.
“Because it has, like ‘The X-Files,’ a mythology that is important to it, but it will also have good stand-alone stories to tell as well. I’ve always said [that] on Friday nights [the original home of "The X-Files"] you had to build an audience rather than steal one. And I think that’s going to be the case here again.”
Last time, critics and viewers were on their own as the “X-Files” – involving vaccination conspiracies, extraterrestrial hybrids, killer bees and black oil – slowly and puzzlingly unfolded.
This time, Carter and co-executive producer Frank Spotnitz took the unusual step of trying to explain their show before the fact.
The premise has a good-guy Army lieutenant named Thomas Hobbes (Scott Bairstow) sent to a virtual-reality version of Earth to find and capture a messianic renegade named Santiago (Terry O’Quinn), whose ultimate goal is to rule the real world. In the alternate reality, Hobbes links up with a reluctant hero named Mike Pinocchio, played by D.B. Sweeney.
Hobbes and Pinocchio. Think Scully and Mulder.
“It’s Scully and Mulder who really make people want to watch ‘The X-Files,’ as fantastic as the cases are they investigate,” Spotnitz said. “And I think the same is going to be true of ‘Harsh Realm.’ If it’s a success, it’s going to be because people come to love and care about Hobbes and Pinocchio.”
So what is the mythology, and what are the rules?
“Because it is a digital world and it is the construct of programmers, or one programmer,” Carter said, “you get a chance to have an almost sort of Greek mythology, with the gods above and the subjects below. And they will be able to walk into any kind of world the programmers decide to throw at them.”
Early episodes will explore the city and outlying area controlled by Santiago, but soon the characters will venture to other cities and effects – digital facial makeovers and a lake whose reflection can clone people are only two. Unlike a video game, though, the rule is when you die in this digital world, you’re dead. No replays. No extra lives.
Carter also offered a more concise outline of “Harsh Realm” than he ever provided about “The X-Files.”
“Harsh Realm [the computerized alternate reality] is exactly like our world, circa 1995,” he said. “Everything was scanned in. Every building, every person. All of us are there in Harsh Realm in a digital form.
“Except that in Harsh Realm, a nuclear bomb went off in 1995 in New York City, leading to the chaos that Santiago has now capitalized upon to build his dictatorship.”
Hope that helps. “Harsh Realm” premieres tomorrow night at 9 on Fox. In this reality, anyway.