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The sci-fi procedural `Reverie' has all kinds of design flaws and half-baked ideas

The sci-fi procedural `Reverie' has all kinds of design flaws and half-baked ideas
Sarah Shahi as Mara Kint, Jessica Lu as Alexis Barret and Dennis Haysbet as Charlie Ventana in NBC's "Reverie." (Sergei Bachlakov / NBC)

"Reverie," a new NBC series planting itself at the gates of summer Wednesday, wastes no time telling you what's what.

Some of the most aggressive exposition in recent memory, quickly establishes that the technology exists to turn a person's brain into a virtual-reality device and that some … customers, I guess they are, have become trapped inside their own heads, living a customized coma dream from which they are unwilling or unable to escape. Because who needs real life when there is a cheesy computerized alternative to hang out in?

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"They brought in another one this morning," says Onira-tech security chief Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert, preternaturally smooth). "That makes seven."

"I can count," says grim-faced genius Alexis Barrett (Jessica Lu) whose work, and I guess you could say fault, this is.

In order to stem this flow of fugitives from reality, Charlie engages Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi), a hostage negotiator he knew in his previous life in real-world policing. Mara, a purported tower of empathy, has a masters of psychology from Stanford and "specialized counterterrorism training with the FBI," as well as some deep-seated personal trauma this new job is totally going to bring to the surface.

Sendhil Ramamurthy plays a scientist with a specialty in dreams in the NBC series "Reverie."
Sendhil Ramamurthy plays a scientist with a specialty in dreams in the NBC series "Reverie." (Sergei Bachlakov / NBC)

This is all established even before the opening credits roll.

As empathy goes, Alexis and Charlie appear concerned only about the effect this potentially fatal side effect might have on their business — more worried about investors pulling the plug than any plugs they might have to pull themselves. ("My program is doing exactly what it's supposed to," says Alexis, as she and Charlie ironically gaze upon one of its casualties.) In one of the pilot's imperfect premises, Onira-tech is one of those science-fictional businesses that does something historically miraculous and profitable while also seeming to remain unknown and unexamined. Well, this is what you get by not supporting investigative journalism.

"They use a social media footprint, a person's pictures, videos, their posts," Charlie tells Mara, describing the Reverie method. "You feed them into the program and resurrect them in Reverie."

"That's like a field trip to heaven," says Mara, who seconds earlier was discoursing on the debilitating effects of screen life. In fact, as a moment's reflection should reveal to anyone with a social media footprint, it sounds perfectly awful.

Mara's job will be to go into Reverie's wide-angle virtual reality and talk clients off that ledge and back into ordinary life, with its unsaturated colors and regular office hours. And as quick as you can say "Inception," she is injected with a microscopic bio-computer and packed off by dream scientist Paul Hammond (Sendhil Ramamurthy) into a world of pure imagination.

Sarah Shahi as empathy expert Mara Kint touches a glowing thing in NBC's virtual-reality search-and-rescue series "Reverie."
Sarah Shahi as empathy expert Mara Kint touches a glowing thing in NBC's virtual-reality search-and-rescue series "Reverie." (Sergei Bachlakov / NBC)

"Reverie" was created by Mickey Fisher, who earlier created the 2014 CBS summer series "Extant," where Halle Berry played an impossibly pregnant astronaut dealing with the AI child her husband whipped up in his home workshop. "Extant" did not make much sense but pushed a lot of buttons, and here again — as in the Reverie program itself — real-world consistency is being jettisoned for emotional payoff.

One would expect , for example, that the R&D alone would make Reverie prohibitively expensive, not to mention the cost of the the company's fancy headquarters, with its lobby-crossing background actors and omnipresent child-voiced artificial intelligence. (Named Dylan, it tells Mara, by way of conversation, that her name means "bitter" in Hebrew, to which she responds that adding an "h" makes it "joy" in Arabic — so you will learn something here.) Yet the the first patron-patient Mara goes in to rescue is someone who has already exhausted his savings on a sick wife.

Suffice it to say there are all kinds of major design flaws that are also, of course, essential to the premise. From a low, fuzzy angle this might all seem like picking nits; its logical holes are not uncommon to the genre. The cast is good, full of pleasantly familiar faces, and there is admirable color-blind casting in the main parts. And for some viewers, a half-baked sci-fi procedural melodrama seasoned with tears and hugs — a sort of psychedelic "This Is Us," to cite the network's new flagship — may be just what the dream doctor ordered.

'Reverie'

Where: NBC

When: 10 p.m. Wednesday

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Rating: TV-14-V (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for violence)

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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