“Reverie” on NBC
Nothing says “diminished expectations” like a summer replacement series on network television. Back in the day, summer TV was the exclusive realm of reruns and “Battle of the Network Stars” specials. Since the explosive growth of cable, satellite and internet streaming television, however, the big broadcast networks have upped their game. A little. There are more original summer shows now. But with few exceptions (CBS’ “Under the Dome,” NBC’s “The Night Shift”), almost all of them are short-lived shows that have been hustled out of the fall season and dumped in the summertime when viewers are busy going to movie theaters or catching some sun. Late last month NBC debuted its first seasonal timeslot filler, the low-effort sci-fi drama “Reverie.”
Billed as a 10-episode “event” (a big hint there will be no second season), the show exists in one of those “near future” worlds that look suspiciously like modern-day Vancouver. “Near future,” you see, requires little to no effort or expense from the set and prop departments. Other than the now ubiquitous clear plastic slab “sci-fi” phones, the only out-of-place technology here is the invention of a stereotypical “virtual reality” world. Known as “Reverie,” this computer simulation allows users to create their own private worlds. Unlike Steven Spielberg’s recent film Ready Player One—in which everyone flew around, fought Godzilla and turned into Transformers—no one in Reverie does anything remotely interesting. There they are, hanging out on the rooftop of an ordinary hotel—which is surrounded by hot air balloons! Wow. Quite the imagination there, Sparky.
The other “feature” of Reverie is that it can recreate simulations of dead loved ones and family members “based on their online profiles”—a conceit that is patently ridiculous. If all my friends were digitally recreated based on their online profiles they’d be nothing but doggo memes and photos of tacos who argue about whether The Last Jedi sucked or not. Nevertheless the “problem” is that this virtual reality simulation is allegedly so great that users are slipping into comas and refusing to awake from their computerized dreams.
Enter former hostage negotiator and current nonverbal communication professor (or something to that effect) Mara Kint (the always-welcome Sarah Shahi from “Person of Interest” and “The L Word”). She’s recruited by her old boss (Dennis Haysbert from “24”), who’s now head of security for the mysterious (or is it just underdeveloped?) company that built Reverie. Her job is to go into the computer-generated dreams of troubled folks and convince them to return to the real world.
“Reverie” does score points for appealing to general audiences with its dumbed-down science and tear-jerking plots. In the first episode, for example, Mara’s got to counsel a guy who’s on a never-ending date with his dead wife. Each week Mara employs her psychological smarts to talk a VR addict into facing their problems rather than escaping reality. (And for bonus feels, Mara ends each episode by quietly drowning tears about her own prematurely deceased relatives in a bottle of booze.) The end result is less like a TV version of The Matrix and more like a computerized remake of “Fantasy Island.”