In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Entering people’s minds is something that TV and film likes to do. I don’t mean the minds of the audience and I don’t mean it metaphorically – I mean it’s a medium that likes to visually recreate the thoughts and dreams of characters and make them a world that other characters can enter. In this genre, film has given us the likes of Brainstorm, Dreamscape, A Nightmare on Elm Street and, possibly best of all, Inception.
Meanwhile, TV has given us VR5, Stitchers, Falling Water, Legion and now its least impressive effort to date, Reverie.
Reverie is an even more nonsensical, formulaic affair than the average piece of NBC sci-fi, giving us Sarah Shahi (Life, Fairly Legal, Person of Interest) as a former hostage negotiator who’s dropped out of the force. Why? BECAUSE THE ONE PERSON SHE COULDN’T SAVE WITH HER SKILLS WAS HERSELF. And her sister. And her niece. Basically, it didn’t go well.
Anyway, old pal Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, 24, Incorporated, Backstrom) comes a knocking at her door one day. He’s gone private sector and now works at the stupidly titled ‘Onira-Tech’ (it’s Greek, darling), which has developed a new dream manipulation-virtual reality technology that allows people with a bit of cash to tailor-make their own dreams. Trouble is, loads of people are now in comas because they apparently don’t want to leave their dream dreams and any attempts to wake them will probably kill them.
Fortunately, version 2.0 of the tech is in the offing and that allows people to share their dreams with someone else. Will Shahi be willing to use the experimental tech as well as her hostage negotiation skills to talk the dreamers down and out of their self-made utopias? And will it mean she’ll have to face her own mental demons to do so?
You betcha. Unfortunately, it’ll make you fall asleep when she does.
Like almost every TV show made by Amblin Entertainment, there’s potentially a good idea at Reverie‘s core that’s utterly ruined by pedestrian writing, equally pedestrian direction, and PG-13, touchy feely, therapeutic psychobabble without even minor scenes of peril. There are hints at darker themes, but this pilot episode is a trite voyage of redemption married with the standard procedural ensemble format.
Shahi spends about three second wondering if the tech is massively dangerous and probably illegal, given how many people are now in comas, before agreeing to take part in this massive medical cover-up. That’s despite the fact tech inventor Jessica Lu is cold and couldn’t care less everyone’s dying. Maybe it’s because the co-developer of the tech, Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes, Covert Affairs) is so smily and nice and British (props for Ramamurthy, who hands down has the best English accent of any American actor working today, even Philip Winchester).
She then has a jolly test run, before taking part in the real thing where she has to persuade a man whose wife has died that he’s better off leaving the fictional version behind so he can return to his daughter, brother and bankrupt real world life. There’s no real threat, there’s no chance Shahi will fail, you know she’ll have to talk about the loss of her sister and it’ll all help her to come to terms with it. There should probably be a group hug at the end. A chat about the fact she’s now literally a cyborg with a grafted bioengineered piece of tech inside her? That can wait until after they’ve listened to an entire album of pan pipe music.
Dialogue is a dreadful mish-mash of the terrible and the overwritten that everyone struggles with. Haysbert has to say things like, “If she sneezes, I want to know,” while Ramamurthy’s lines are mostly reading out the stupid Reverie instruction manual to Shahi (“If you want to enter Reverie, you need to hold this tablet and say this; if you want to exit Reverie, you need to find a sign and touch it; if you can’t find a sign, then you need to…”). Lu just has to look shifty and stand around in a leather jacket. There’s a lot of unnecessary sci-fi rule-creation that makes everything over-complicated, while simultaneously being simplistic and unthreatening (“You can’t really die in there. In time, you can even tell your mind to ignore pain…”).
It’s peril level 0, in which people are happy are forced to return to their less happy lives after a bit of chatting. For a show that starts by slamming people for using phones because it stops them from developing ‘the most important thing of all – empathy’, it’s a show that has very little of its own for either character or audience.
Given how much special effects and TV direction in general have improved in the past 25 years, it’s also sad to see just how insipid all the dream sequences are. VR5 did a much better job with a couple of Amigas and a Commodore 64.
Equally, just as the plotting takes a little bit from everything that precedes it, Reverie steals from the likes of Inception but never the expensive or good bits. Different geometries and laws of physics? Nah. How about the bit when everyone in the dream world starts looking at you because you’ve got the attention of the dreamer’s subconscious instead?
Gosh, that waiter’s over-pouring the coffee. How will we survive?
It’s supposed to look good, it’s supposed to look like your wildest dreams. Instead, it’s some hot air balloons and a run through a forest with some CGI fireflies and a lantern.
The cast are good but they’re saddled by a show that lacks any real imagination or edge. Reverie complicated when it should be simple, simple when it should be complicated and has nothing to say that’s of any depth. What it does say is trite.
Ironically, Reverie is a show that failed to dream a little bigger.