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Sarah Shahi is good, but the show is nothing spectacular
Vacations from reality used to be the domain of our boring imaginations, but they are getting technological upgrades through virtual reality, augmented reality and dumb iPhone apps that make us forget about our pathetic existence for a few minutes. Fortunately, the growing realism of virtual worlds will lead to the inevitable permanent mass escape from our crappy real world.
NBC's new drama Reverie explores the idea of getting the F out of your real existence with a fancy new computer program called Reverie that caters to the whim of its users by building computer-generated worlds that can't be differentiated from reality except for the fact that they're friggin' awesome! Clients use an implant to synch up with a computer program, tell the company what they want, and blammo! They're wherever they want to be with whoever they want to be with. The one problem? Reverie has essentially taken some users hostage, but it's more of a Stockholm Syndrome situation because these users have no interest in logging off from their wildest computer-aided fantasies.
"Every one of these people decided that life in Reverie is better than the one out here," Dennis Haysbert's stern corporate security advisor says, regarding the human vegetables who refuse to sign out of their Reverie sessions and are instead laying in makeshift hospital beds inside his company's office building.
It's up to Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi), a former hostage negotiator/current human behavior professor/very current substance abuser dealing with the trauma of her sister's murder, to go into Reverie in order to pull these people out and bring them back to their friends and families. But what Mara deals with isn't just me sitting in a dark room playing PUBG hissing at whoever cracks the door open; these people are in Reverie to reconnect with lost loved ones. At least that was the case in the first episode, in which a man jacked his brain into Reverie to hang out with a digital copy of his deceased wife.
As such, Reverie isn't packed with science-fiction and instead focuses on the emotional explanations for why these users are choosing Reverie over real life, which will be disappointing for sci-fi fans but not for general audiences. Mara doesn't spin-flip around the virtual reality like Neo in The Matrix, instead she's there to smack some sense into these people and get them home. There are hints of some overarching mythology and serialized stories -- it's not a spoiler to say that Mara isn't totally OK when she returns to the real world or that Reverie's corporate masters aren't trying to cover something up -- but none of them really pique interest in the way that something like Timeless, NBC's other sci-fi-driven procedural, does. (Side note: #RenewTimeless, NBC.)
The fact that Reverie comes from the mind of Mickey Fisher doesn't help its outlook either. Fisher's big break into the television business was with Extant, which CBS showcased over two bland summer seasons. That show promised a lot and delivered very little, and by the end was a muddled mess. Reverie has more of a procedural engine than Extant and is looking like a Fantasy Island for the digital age, which will likely work in its favor instead of making it another sloppy broadcast science-fiction series that overcomplicates itself.
Why Is TV So Obsessed With Virtual Reality?
The highlight of Reverie is its star. Shahi is on her way to becoming a major headliner, and to be honest, it's a crime she hasn't gotten there yet. Following her exquisite run on Person of Interest as the surprisingly complex government grunt Shaw, Shahi again brings a sense of humanity and competence to her performance. This is television, so it's not surprising that NBC cast someone who looks like a former pro cheerleader (which is true, because she was one) to play a professor of human behavior, but Shahi can ground herself and convince you that she could be a professor of human behavior, and her attempts to help those trapped in Reverie come off as earnest, selfless acts, rather than a hero saving the day. That goes a long way to sell the emotional core of the show.
For those looking for a smart series to fuel debates about the implications of virtual reality, you'll instead find some network-level special effects and armchair psychology. But if you're looking for a case-of-the-week procedural dealing with grief, loss and escapism, Reverie will do the trick.
Reverie premieres Wednesday, May 30 at 10/9c on NBC.