TV characters entering virtual reality is a level of inception that just never seems to work. We explore five times it went very wrong.
13 Oct 2016 - 3:15 PM  UPDATED 13 Oct 2016 - 3:17 PM

With the launch this week of the Playstation VR, a virtual reality gaming machine that one can strap to their heads to escape the existence of their own crushingly disappointing lives, it reminded us that people have been escaping their own lives for years through regular television.

But every so often television and VR have crisscrossed, with VR featuring in some of our favourite and understandably forgotten shows. Rarely has it ever been successful.

Star Trek: The Next Generation/Voyager

Introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew used to unwind with a virtual reality simulator termed 'the holodeck'. With no need for goggles, a dedicated room on the ship would transform into the virtual reality of the users choosing. 

The gimmick was used a bunch of times over the course of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-off Star Trek: Voyager to tell fan-favourite stories with beloved characters wearing outlandish costumes far removed from the weekly reality of the shows. Occasionally the holodeck was used to great effect in-story, such as a notable episode of Voyager which had crew member Harry Kim fall in love with a simulation character.

But then there are the episodes which have the Holodeck fail, leaving characters trapped in places like the old west or in 1920's detective stories. Which, to be honest, was pretty much every time they used the holodeck in the show.

Harsh Realm

High off the success of The X-Files, Fox greenlit this series from X-Files creator Chris Carter. A loose adaptation of a comic book, the show was about a US army VR world created for training simulations that was taken over by a rogue general. 

The show was justifiably cancelled after just nine episodes to a completely indifferent audience.

Murder She Wrote

TV's greatest mass murderer Jessica Fletcher struck again, but this time via virtual reality in the episode "A Virtual Murder". Fletcher cannot be contained by just one reality. 

Mad About You 

In a post Lawnmower Man world, it made perfect sense for 90s sitcom Mad About You to explore virtual reality. Only, when Mad About You did it, they jettisoned the reality for a simulation featuring Paul Reiser meeting Christie Brinkley. 


The daughter of a computer programmer discovers that she can enter a virtual reality where her actions in the virtual world have an effect on the real world. As is often how this sort of thing plays out, she soon agrees to use her abilities to help out a shadowy organisation, The Committee. 

The show was cancelled with just thirteen episodes produced. Three of which never went to air.

It's almost impossible to believe you've never heard of this show before.


* * * *

Just because virtual reality is the death knell of TV narratives doesn't mean virtual reality can't be used alongside TV to tell some exciting stories. Check out the SBS VR page for some outstanding virtual reality experiences that will let you better understand the world.


More on the guide
Just the facts ma'am: TV cop procedurals from Dragnet to Deep Water
New SBS series Deep Water is the latest in an evolution of the TV police procedural.
Who Dat Ninja? Celebrating a decade of 30 Rock pop culture
The Tina Fey NBC sitcom 30 Rock debuted on 11 October 2006, ten years ago today. Its lasting legacy has been the daffy pop cultural world that existed in the show itself.
Taking Indigenous languages online: can they be seen, heard and saved?
Working Dog: 30 years of biting at the cutting edge of comedy
Formerly known as Frontline Productions Incorporated, Working Dog have consistently produced compelling television since 1986. Here’s a comprehensive guide to our favourite comedy veterans.