'Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey'



Airdate: 8-8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 15 (Cinemax)


LOS ANGELES -- OK, so I'm probably just not nearly cool enough or spiritual enough to fully embrace this truly peculiar "Cinemax Reel Life" half-hour special about a dude who feels so alienated from the real world that he dumps it in favor of virtual reality, that intriguing thing we heard so much about, like, seven or eight years ago and not a whole lot since.

Remember when everything was about "VR"? Yeah, we were all going to travel to a different dimension via our eyes and ears, as long as we never ran out of quarters to feed the machine transporting us there. Now that VR seems more dated than futuristic, "Molotov Alva and His Search for the Creator: A Second Life Odyssey" merely comes across as self-consciously bizarre, like something you'd hallucinate after eating a handful of Oreos whose freshness expired back in '99. It doesn't even look all that intriguing --essentially like stop-motion animation on steroids.

"Second Life" is an actual online virtual reality community with more than 9 million users involved as "residents." And this show was culled from life in that mythical Internet land. The brainchild of writer-producer-director Douglas Gayeton (who is said to have collaborated on several "alternate reality game" projects), the docu claims to be the first docu ever presented on TV to have been shot entirely in virtual reality. I'm not sure that's true. I can recall shows years' back on MTV that had a similar look and style. Where this one seems to differ is in the pains taken to build a plausible backstory about what's going on here, which is a bit like trying to explain where it makes perfect sense that a Kansas girl would be accompanied by a scarecrow, a tin man and a cowardly lion in her quest to have an audience with a wizard.

In the "Molotov" story line, Alva disappears from his California home in January 2007 and leaps the time-space continuum into a virtual world where everything is a little bit screwy. Alva (voiced by Gayeton) pens dispatches in his non-flesh-and-blood state from a place called "Second Life" that are designed to get people up to speed on what it's like to, you know, not really exist in this nonexistent place. He's evidently hoping to find a more transcendent version of himself without the ingestion of special mushrooms (I just made that part up). He creates an avatar that resembles his actual pudgy self, sets down roots in a home with amenities he doesn't need, and finds that, curiously, he needs money just like here on Earth. This would no doubt make jealous anyone who has longed to have virtual cash-flow issues.

This is the part of "Molotov" that makes some sense. Less explicable is Molotov's chance meeting with a hot babe whom he considers his soul mate despite their curious inability to "achieve any physical connection." So instead, he chooses to abandon the lady to head off on a wild goose chase for "The Creator" with a guy who wears a barrel instead of pants, sports a distended eyeball and has all the social graces of the grim reaper (whom he resembles). Of course, this kind of purposefully odd and ethereal program isn't nearly as profound as it thinks it is. And though this "Second Life Odyssey" is at least consistent in carrying off its screw-with-our-heads vision, Gayeton tends to mistake self-flagellating blather for something sociologically meaningful in this mortal realm.

Production companies: HBO Documentary Films, Submarine Channel Prods., Vpro Television and Vrij Nederland Magazine. Executive producers: Femke Wolting, Bruno Felix; Writer-producer-director: Douglas Gayeton. Editor: Pier Giorgio Provenzano. Narrator: Douglas Gayeton.