At risk of sounding nostalgic, I don’t know if there’s anything better in life than re-living a seemingly perfect memory.
Your mind might wander to that familiar place, or the feeling is unwittingly triggered, or you consciously recall it. Either way, for several fleeting seconds, our brain is entirely consumed with the unmatched sights, sounds and emotions of that memory. Everything is bathed in a warm, goldish hue and all seems well in the world.
And then we’re violently and unceremoniously thrown back into reality. It’s almost like a cruel joke, as if our minds are teasing us with a reminder of a world that once was.
But what if we could stay in that space for longer? We’d probably do anything to achieve that, right?
These questions lie at the heart of NBC’s thought-provoking new series, “Reverie.” Drawing inspiration from sci-fi concepts lately popularized in “Black Mirror” and “Westworld,” “Reverie” examines the delicate balance between immersive virtual reality and reality.
In the show, emerging virtual reality company Onira Tech, led by virtuoso programmer Alexis Barrett (Jessica Lu, “Awkward.”), has developed an application dubbed Reverie that “allows two people to interact in a shared, immersive virtual world” indistinguishable from reality.
Although the clear benefits of Reverie — namely, letting individuals relive experiences with family or friends who have passed away — are enormous, the drawbacks of the program are just as glaring and severe.
As “Reverie” somewhat clumsily outlines in its premiere, it’s becoming increasingly common for users to remain in the program for weeks at a time and fall into a coma in reality due to the intoxicating nature of their memories. At the expense of their sanity, “the dream has become their reality.”
To alleviate this issue, Onira brings in behavioral psychologist Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi, “Person of Interest”), who previously worked as a hostage negotiator alongside the firm’s security consultant, Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert, “24”). Kint is tasked with entering programs and persuading users to leave Reverie in favor of the real world.
While this concept is clearly influenced by (read: ripped from) Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller “Inception,” it remains an intriguing exploration of human relationships and prompts existential questions about happiness. These questions are the series’ greatest contributions, challenging viewers to consider their past and confront whether they would trade the rest of their lives for a few euphoric, yet ephemeral, moments.
Beyond its philosophical ponderings, “Reverie” features a strong performance from Shahi, who manages to add layers to her cliché backstory as someone driven by witnessing personal tragedy. Shahi brings a level of intrigue and charisma to the series that produces a complex and somewhat enigmatic Kint.
While Shahi’s co-stars are not as adept at deepening their roles, Haysbert — the trademark gravelly voice of Allstate commercials — is convincing as a conflicted Reverie staffer grappling with the mental weight of the program’s implications for reality. Playing Onira’s chief scientist, Sendhil Ramamurthy (“Heroes”) does a nice job of providing some comic relief, though Lu disappoints as the completely forgettable creator of Reverie.
Although its cast is a mixed bag, the visuals of “Reverie” are entirely the opposite. Throughout the show’s pilot, Reverie’s virtual world is treated to a brighter, enhanced color palette that reflects the warm hue which envelops our mind when reliving fond memories.
“Reverie” excels at portraying a virtual utopia, making it easier for audiences to empathize with users who elect to stay in its confines rather than return to reality. The show contrasts the friendly, inviting colorways of the simulation with a more sleek and minimalist coloring for its scenes depicting the real world. Consisting primarily of varying shades of grey, blue and black, the series’s color palette for reality is intended to subtly encourage viewers to further question whether Reverie as an application represents a better alternative.
It’s in these methodical, thoughtful decisions that “Reverie” overcomes its struggling cast and occasionally heavy-handed writing to emerge as an engaging and introspective look at the power of the past. Let’s hope there’s more of it on the way.