What the hell is Reverie about? EW's TV critics investigate
Wednesday marks the series premiere of Reverie, a new NBC drama about, well, a lot of things! EW TV Critic Kristen Baldwin started watching the first episode, paused after six minutes, and demanded that fellow TV Critic Darren Franich watch with her. They discussed the episode in real time via Slack.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Kristen: I literally don’t even know where to start here, Darren.
Darren: We’re four seconds into Reverie. A man has just brought his lady friend out onto a rooftop penthouse overlooking New York City, which is full of hot air balloons.
Kristen: But he’s REALLY in a coma, affected by something called “the Reverie program.” And Dennis Haysbert is here!
Darren: Dennis Haysbert, my President, is talking to a woman who invented “The Reverie Program,” some kind of digital simulation brain thing. I guess my big question already is, is the Reverie program like The Matrix or Ready Player One or that one episode of Black Mirror with the ’80s? I hope it’s the latter, better music.
Kristen: Sarah Shahi is taking pills and taking shots from tiny hotel liquor bottles. TV pet peeve 4,072: secret drunks who drink out of tiny hotel liquor bottles. If they wanted to keep it secret, they’d use a flask.
Darren: She’s also leading a seminar about figuring out if people are lying. Is this set in the Lie to Me universe? I really liked Lie to Me, it was like CSI but for lying.
Kristen: This is actually a college class where people read each other’s expressions. “Their parents pay money for this?” asks Dennis Haysbert, who knows what’s up
Darren: “Do you know how much time an average teen spends on their devices per day?” I think this show is about the danger of using devices, which is frankly all I care about these days. I tweet about it all the time.
Kristen: Sarah Shahi apparently used to be a cop, and Dennis Haysbert used to be the chief. Now he needs her to rescue the “hostages” trapped in the Reverie program
Darren: Ah, okay, so Reverie seems to be specifically based on your happiest memory. Dennis Haysbert is saying “Reverie is the place where the impossible becomes possible.” So it’s a Westworld but without the West.
Kristen: And without the rape? Stay tuned!
Darren: Dennis Haysbert just said the phrase “social media footprint”
Kristen: Yes, yes he did, Darren. This is where I had to turn the show off last time. Thank you for joining me for Take 2.
Darren: So they use social media footprints to design digital worlds for people. Following this logic, my Reverie world would be an episode of DuckTales with Uncle Scrooge complaining about the new Star Wars movies.
Kristen: LOLLLLL. Backstory alert: Shahi has two daughters (maybe) but something caused her to lose them?
Darren: She’s a hostage negotiator, but the one negotiation she couldn’t win was…the one with her own family.
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Kristen: Oh NO! It was her sister! Her sister was killed by her angry brother-in-law! (Maybe?) Her sister and her niece were killed! THIS is why she drinks out of tiny hotel liquor bottles, I guess.
Darren: Well now, Reverie is really off to a lighthearted start here.
Kristen: Can we go back to the video game now pls? Thx.
Darren: Ohhh, the Reverie Program is housed in one of those cool offices where everyone works on comfy-looking colorful couches.
Kristen: And they’re always walking. Always.
Darren: Thanks to Aaron Sorkin, a whole generation thinks the most important thing you can do in an office is “walk.” Also, the Reverie building has an AI! It’s name is Dillon and it sounds like one of the kids from the Peanuts cartoons.
Kristen: Yeah that’s not creepy AT ALL. EWWWW Reverie has been “integrated with living tissue.” #nope
Darren: I mean like, can you use this to play MarioKart? I would get cybertech integrated into my living tissue if it helped with MarioKart.
Kristen: You could probably use it to play MarioKart while talking with Duck McScrooge about his Star Wars issues.
Darren: OH MY GOD WAIT. This episode was directed by Jaume-Collet Serra??? He made The Commuter, the movie where Liam Neeson punches a train! And Non-Stop, the movie where Liam Neeson punches a plane!
Kristen: Well this show certainly isn’t stopping, in that things keep happening but none of them make any sense. Anyhow, Shahi just got a Reverie bug implanted into her arm so she can enter the game and PULL THOSE HOSTAGES OUT! Is that the dude from Heroes?
Darren [the same instant]: Hey, it’s Suresh from Heroes!
Kristen: Jinx! You owe me a VR soda!
Darren: Wow, Sendhil Ramamurthy hasn’t aged in ten years, whereas I have aged decades in the same decade. He’s some kind of scientist guy, who is walking Shahi through the digital world, just like DiCaprio walked Juno through Inception.
Kristen: Darren is she IN the game right now? And if so is Heroes Dude in the game too? Does he live there?
Darren: Yes, I think they’re in the tutorial section of the game. Also, you just know that the Reverie employees would be all like “It’s NOT a game! It’s a TRANSDIGITAL EXPERIENCE, GEEZ.”
Kristen: Wow he really is still so very handsome. My Reverie would be me discovering how handsome Sendhil Ramamurthy still is, over and over again.
Darren: Now she’s in a forest. Have we been watching this for ten hours?
Kristen: Okay so we’re 217 minutes in and now she’s running around a Reverie forest. (We’re actually only 15 minutes in, give or take.)
Darren: Wait so nerdlinger alert, this forest actually does look a lot like where you begin in World of Warcraft if you play as a Night Elf. [hides head in shame]
Darren: There are fairies, and she can touch fire, and she is overpowering her natural fear response. Also, now the whole forest is burning down. I feel like that’s a hot new trend, remember the burning forest in Lost in Space?
Kristen: Well to be fair, the fire does look really fake. And yes! Burning forests are the new flash forwards.
Darren: Wait, everything’s changed, now she’s drowning in a coffin.
Kristen: All she has to do is say “exodus,” if things get too “intense.” I guess the people stuck in Reverie comas don’t want to leave, so they’re not saying “exodus”? Also Sendhil Ramamurthy just said “de-realization” I think???
Darren: Every time the scientists talk about Reverie, I get very confused. But I think the gist of this show so far is: Hostage Negotiator Must Rescue Internet Addicts From Themselves.
Kristen: Oh, ok so the Coma Guy is staying in Reverie to be with his dead wife. Even though his daughter is still alive in the “real world.”
Darren: So his show is the Domhnall Gleeson of Black Mirror mixed with the ’80s episode of Black Mirror. Mixed with Sarah Shahi learning to breathe underwater, mixed with frankly not enough punching of planes.
Kristen: I have never watched an episode of Black Mirror, but I’ll take your word for it.
Darren: Technology is bad, there, saved you some time.
Kristen: Oh, so there’s a “surprise” waiting for you if you make it to “the end” of Reverie. Like “The Maze” in Season 1 of Westworld or “The Door” in Season 2 of Westworld, I guess. We are 20 minutes in and all I know for sure is that Dennis Haysbert’s character is named Charlie.
Darren: I feel like a lot of Reverie looks like the final act of a romantic comedy? Like, sky lanterns and hot air balloons and fancy libraries? It’s like the Matrix for Maid in Manhattan.
Kristen: Yes! They want to pull in those female viewers who might be scared off by the sci-fi element. Okay now Sarah S. is in the Reverie trying to chase down the first Coma Guy who has a dead wife.
Darren: And they’re in the middle of what looks like a Chinese New Year parade. The Coma Guy clearly knows she’s after him and is on the run, with the digital version of his dead wife.
Kristen: Awwww s—, but the Reverie just juked Sarah S. with an image of her dead niece!!! What’s that movie where the technology doesn’t want the person to succeed so it keeps cockblocking them? Throwing obstacles in their way?
Darren: Ummmm.It’s not Non-Stop, I know that.
Kristen: It’ll come to me. Oh, maybe it wasn’t a movie, and maybe it wasn’t technology.
Darren: God, Kristen, I am ALL ABOUT THIS LIBRARY.
Kristen: Yeah the show really loves this set. We’ve been here three times now.
Darren: It’s like the hub corridor of Reverie, this cool circular library.
Kristen: Reminds me of the elevator in Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.
Darren: With a lot of doors, and I assume one door leads to the MAZE. I hope this show has a maze.
Kristen: Oh now Sarah Bounty Hunter is on the balcony with Coma Guy, and he’s all “GTFO of my Reverie.”
Darren: Also, there’s a blue butterfly. Coma Guy just pushed her off a building, and we watched her fall all the way down to the road! “I got the wind knocked out of me” says Sarah S.
Kristen: And then she said the magic word, which maybe isn’t “exodus”? OH, but when Sendhil Ramamurthy asked her if she saw anything unusual in the Reverie she says no, which is a Big Fat Lie. Because she (maybe) saw her dead niece.
Darren: The Coma Guy’s daughter is reading Secret Garden, which I remember being really scared of as a kid for some reason. I think I thought there was a ghost in the Secret Garden? Was there?
Kristen: I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of a ghost in Secret Garden. Quiz: What is Sarah S.’s character’s name? We are now 27 minutes in, btw.
Darren: Thanks to Dillon, I know that it’s Maura! Maura Kint.
Kristen: Maura or Mara?
Darren: Sorry, “Mara.” As in Rooney, not Tierny.
Kristen: Also what is happening right now? Mara/Maura is talking to Dillon about people in Coma Guy’s social media photos. His “social media footprint,” if you will, Darren. COMA GUY IS NAMED TONY! (Baby steps.)
Darren: Wait, I thought this show was all about investigating the Reverie world, now Mara is going around investigating people in the real world?
Kristen: Yes, but I think to get intel that can help her lure Coma Guy/Tony out of Reverie?? HOLD UP. The Reverie doctor says Mara might have an “underlying psychiatric disorder.”
Darren: The blue butterfly is maybe some kind of drug? Dennis Haysbert says it “Helps college kids get through finals.” Or, also, the blue butterfly symbolizes guilt?
Kristen: Ok, so Coma Guy/Tony feels guilt about his wife’s death, which is why the butterfly shows up in his Reverie?
Darren: Butterflies are the new Maze.
Kristen: I couldn’t understand this show LESS if it were in Esperanto.
Darren: Mara is back in Reverie chasing coma guy through a nice hotel. I take back all previous references, this is very Vanilla Sky? I bet they pitched this show as “Vanilla Sky meets Lie to Me.”
Kristen: Meets Maid in Manhattan. Ok, now Mara is trying to get Coma Guy to explain the source of his guilt, and suddenly he’s all chill and telling her about it over a tumbler of Reverie booze.
Darren: There’s a drug in this world called Scarin’. I’m sure it’s not spelled that way, but that’s how I will spell it. The big problem was that Coma Guy and his wife didn’t have health insurance, and when she was diagnosed with an illness it put a big strain on their relationship. This would never happen in Scandinavia. Scandinavia is like Reverie in real life.
Darren: So serious question, is this show basically Touched by an Angel: Internet Edition? I figured Sarah Shahi would be kicking ass but she’s mainly doing, like, group therapy with sad coma people?
Kristen: Yes, now she’s “opening up” to Coma Guy about how she too feels responsible for someone’s death. (He feels responsible because he was high on Scarin’ when he and his wife got into a car accident.)
Darren: I get high on Scarin’ every Halloween! (Sorry)
Kristen: I guess Coma Guy didn’t realize he’s trapped in Reverie?
Darren: Just like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky, spoiler alert!
Kristen: And Rosebud is a sled! Double spoiler alert!
Darren: And Thanos is a sled, triple spoiler alert!
Kristen: Now Coma Guy is talking to his VR wife and she’s all, Go home, I’m not real, we’re cool. And rose petals are floating into the sky for some reason.
Darren: Romcom Matrix is the best Matrix.
Kristen: It certainly is the prettiest.
Darren: Coma Guy has just woken up. I like the idea that Mara is an excellent hostage negotiator because she’s just super chill. Like, she can just talk people through stuff.
Kristen: All right, I see how this is going to go — every week she’ll pull some poor soul from the Reverie, and MAYBE deal with her own trauma bit by bit? SPOILER ALERT, OBVS
Darren: But like, there has to be something else up with Reverie, right?
Kristen: Yeah, Sendhil Ramamurthy is handsome but he’s definitely not a good guy.
Darren: Also, real talk, do we think that the “real” world in this show is also a Reverie?
Kristen: Oh god, I don’t know or care.
Darren: I give it a 50/50 shot that everything we’ve seen is digital. Also, Lexy, who I think invented Reverie, sleeps in a cool post-modern looking orb bed?
Kristen: Playing virtual checkers with Dillon, WHO IS MODELED AFTER HER DEAD (?) BROTHER. So this is The Matrix meets Vanilla Sky meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Maid in Manhattan.
Darren: Whoa, it’s Kathryn Morris from Cold Case!
Kristen [the same instant]: Wait, what’s the chick from Cold Case doing here? JINX.
Darren: She’s playing some kind of corporate person who sees potential in Reverie, but she’s clearly a bit evil.
Kristen: Meanwhile, Mara is out of the Reverie, and has arrived home. She seems to be on the verge of Reevaluating Her Life.
Darren: Oh god, another flashback to the murder of her sister and niece. And now we get to see her murderous brother-in-law kill himself, too! Hat trick!
Kristen: Mara is picking up her messy apartment! She really IS ready to change her life!BUT WILL SHE THROW OUT THE PILLS DARREN?
Darren: Seems like a waste of pills.
Kristen: Seriously. Also not great for the Citytown, USA water supply.
Darren: Wait, she just heard her niece, laughing?
Kristen: OH F— HER NIECE FOLLOWED HER OUT OF THE REVERIE. Mic drop!
Darren: Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Was that the show?
Kristen: I mean, yes?
Darren: It ends with the niece hanging out at the end of the hall?
Kristen: But she doesn’t speak… yet.
Darren: You know what her niece was doing, Kristen? She was…SCARIN’.
Kristen: High five!
Darren: Well, I have to say, I was expecting this show to sort of be a police procedural version of internet moderation. I was not expecting the in-depth conversations about family trauma!
Kristen: Like Elementary but with talks of “mindfulness”? I don’t know what I was expecting. Actually, that’s not true. I guess I thought there would be monsters. Aren’t there always monsters in video games? I thought Sarah S. would get trapped in Reverie and have to fight off digital monsters.
Darren: I guess the show going forward is more about how her time in Reverie starts breaking into the real world, although given all the talk about her brainwaves maybe the big twist is that she’s a psychopath?
Kristen: Oh and maybe in the series finale we’ll discover that she’s BEEN IN A COMA THE WHOLE TIME!!! Can we just jump ahead to that part?
Darren: I think I’d give this pilot a C-, but to be honest I mainly just enjoyed the library. What do you think, Kristen?
Kristen: Hmmm. I’d go D+. Nothing made sense and there wasn’t enough Dennis Haysbert. I would like to see Sarah S. find a show that is worthy of her appeal. This, however, is not it.
Darren: RIP, Fairly Legal! Let’s go with your grade since I just remembered there was a symbolic butterfly. And with that, I am Exodus-ing myself away from Reverie.
Reverie premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.