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A space ride worth taking

TELEVISION CRITIC

Notwithstanding the title attached to my byline, I am the last person to ask why things do or do not happen in the TV business. But I can say with some assurance that decisions are not always based on quality of work. If they were, “Virtuality,” a “failed” pilot from Ronald D. Moore and Michael Taylor of “Battlestar Galactica,” would be the first episode of a series and not merely the stand-alone “movie” Fox will present it as tonight.

It is not a movie -- it ends unfinished, just as it’s really beginning -- but that does not mean you should pass it by, any more than you should forgo “The Last Tycoon” because Fitzgerald died before he got to the end. As directed by Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”), this is smart, handsome TV, a witty, measured mix of sci-fi, soap and satire that offers new twists on old tropes. (It sometimes plays -- and looks -- like a homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey.”)

A dozen astronauts (including Clea DuVall as the resident Starbuck) have set out on a lengthy mission to find the source of an extraterrestrial radio signal -- a mission financed by putting the whole shebang on television as a “Big Brother"-style reality show. To escape both the real and the “reality,” they spend time jacked into customized virtual environments. But there is a ghost in that machine, and things get strange, and then stranger.

And that’s it: No end, no answers, but eloquent all the same.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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‘Virtuality’

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Where: Fox

When: 8 tonight

Rating: Not rated


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