NBC’s “Reverie” Offers Escape From Quality Programming

The pilot of NBC’s “Reverie,” an attempt at Summer escapism now that the weather is warmer and most of the network shows have gone on hiatus, is such a hodge-podge of clear influences from other science-fiction projects that it’s more fun to pick them out than actually engage with the plot. Created by Mickey Firsher (“Extant”), “Reverie” wans to fit in with the sci-fi TV explosion of late, led by shows like “Westworld” and “Black Mirror,” both almost directly referenced here they’re so influential, but it ends up feeling more like a bad sci-fi movie of the ‘90s than what people are accustomed to in the ’10s. In other words, it’s more “Virtuosity” than “Inception.”

With a concept that is certain to remind people of the Emmy Award-winning “San Junipero” from the Netflix anthology series “Black Mirror,” “Reverie” is about a virtual reality program in which one can live out their wildest fantasies or recreate the best days of their lives with lost loved ones. Imagine being able to relive your wedding day with a spouse that’s no longer alive. Imagine being able to take a vacation to the Caribbean without leaving your hometown. Imagine the endless possibilities. Would you ever want to leave?

That final question is the dilemma facing the company behind this new program in the pilot as a client has entered this virtual world and now won’t come back. A former police officer who consults for this groundbreaking tech company named Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert) has the crazy idea to bring in one of his old colleagues, a crack negotiator named Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi). Mara can talk people out of ruining their lives or off suicidal ledges—she’s the perfect one to bring people lost in fantasy back to reality. Although, of course, she has some demons of her own to overcome, including the nightmare of a very personal negotiation that went horribly wrong. As she enters the fantasy world of “Reverie” to save others, she’ll also learn a thing or two about herself.

I suppose. Sadly, NBC only made the pilot of “Reverie” available for review, so I can’t really speak to what the show will be like week to week. The premiere is notably manipulative, playing off the inherent empathy for children in jeopardy and the desire to see dead loved ones. It feels cheap and unearned, and just no fun. Even “San Junipero” recognized that limitless virtual reality should be a fun concept, but “Reverie” takes itself way too seriously and doesn’t work as drama or escapism. It’s especially surprising that it’s so flat given that the episode was directed by the usually solid Jaume Collet-Serra (“The Commuter,” “Unknown”). You’d never know it if you missed the credit.

Particularly frustrating is the waste of Sarah Shahi, an actress I’ve found charismatic since the highly underrated “Life,” co-starring Damian Lewis. She’s had a number of hits (“Person of Interest”) and misses (“Fairly Legal”) since then, but I was most intrigued by “Reverie” because of her casting, hopeful she would have a hit that knew how to use her well. Much like the imagined worlds of the show itself, that hope was just a dream.

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Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also the Editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a writer for The New York Times, Vulture, The AV Club, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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