Reverie: Pilot

‘Reverie’ Pilot Recap: “We’re Just Getting to the Weird Part”

About a decade ago, Sarah Shahi had a breakout role opposite Damian Lewis on NBC’s short-lived but fondly-remembered detective procedural ‘Life’. She returns to the network now to headline the sci-fi drama ‘Reverie’. Sadly, the show is extremely lame.

Shahi plays Mara Kint, a former police hostage negotiator who developed a bad drinking habit after she failed to talk her own brother-in-law down from murdering her sister and niece. These days, in between bouts of pitying herself, she teaches lessons on “interpersonal dynamics” and body language to disaffected teens too absorbed in their electronic devices to pay attention to the world around them.

Mara’s old police commissioner, Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haybert), has moved to the private sector as CEO of a company called RekallOnira Tech. (How a police commissioner would be qualified for such a job is not addressed.) The firm’s newest product is a Virtual Reality program called Reverie, which allows users to experience vivid recreations of their own memories. Using data culled from social media footprints, Reverie can even resurrect their dead loved ones, in a manner of speaking. Unfortunately, a rash of incidents have occurred in which some users have become addicted to Reverie and refuse to leave the program. Due to some pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo, the company can’t simply turn off the program or disconnect users from it. They’re trapped inside until they choose to come out of their own volition, leaving their living bodies comatose in the meantime.

Remembering Mara’s skill with talking to people, Charlie hires her to be an intervention specialist. Tech designer and exposition delivery device Paul Hammond (Sendhil Ramamurthy from ‘Heroes’) teaches Mara how to enter the program by staring at a tablet and saying the word “Apertus,” and trains her in how to navigate the VR world, which looks like very low-res video with occasional crappy CGI effects that she’s utterly dazzled by. Other notable characters include a snarky programmer named Lexi (Jessica Lu) and the building’s A.I. virtual assistant called Dylan, which speaks with the voice of a young boy. Later we’ll learn that Dylan was modeled after Lexi’s own brother, who presumably died young.

For her first case, Mara enters the reverie of a man named Tony, who has become obsessed with reliving an anniversary dinner with his late wife, abandoning his young daughter waiting for him in the real world. When he realizes that someone has intruded into his experience, Tony become enraged and shoves Mara off a building balcony. Fortunately, she wakes up back in the lab. Doing research into Tony’s life, Mara learns that his wife died in a car accident. Not only was Tony behind the wheel of the vehicle, he was impaired on drugs at the time. He blames himself for his wife’s death. In her second attempt, Mara is able to get through to Tony and bond with him over their similar stories of trauma. He says goodbye to his simulated wife and wakes up from his coma, to many tears and hugs from his daughter.

Feeling like she’s found a new purpose in life, Mara cleans up her messy house and throws out all her booze. Lest she be too optimistic, however, she’s shocked to see a vision of her dead niece in the house. Meanwhile, four more Reverie users have gone comatose, and Charlie has a dinner date with a Department of Defense official who’s very interested in using the technology for military purposes.

Episode Verdict / Grade: D

The premise of ‘Reverie’ is basically that scene in ‘Total Recall’ where the weaselly doctor tells Arnold Schwarzenegger that he’s living in a simulated fantasy and needs to leave before he’s lobotomized, if the doctor were the story’s protagonist and every week he had a new adventure entering someone’s dream and acting as their guardian angel.

I like Sarah Shahi and even watched her USA Network series ‘Fairly Legal’ for the couple seasons it was on. She’s an appealing actress, but this is not a very good vehicle for her. Her personality and charm are suppressed in favor of focusing on the show’s concept, which is pretty dumb and rather poorly executed. Dennis Haysbert is also given next to nothing to do.

Despite putting feature filmmaker Jaume Collet-Sera (‘Non-Stop’, ‘The Shallows’) – a man with experience making ridiculous plots seem entertaining – behind the camera, the pilot episode is extremely cheap-looking and simply boring. I can’t imagine this will last very long before NBC either pulls it from the air or at least burns off the episodes on late Saturday nights.

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