NEW YORK (CNS) — “High concept” is how NBC describes its new drama “Reverie,” which makes a solid, if not quite spectacular, debut Wednesday, May 30, 10-11 p.m. EDT. The series will air in this time slot during its 10-week summer replacement run.
Being paired with the lead-in of the popular reality athletic competition show “American Ninja Warrior” should boost the fledgling series’ chances of success.
Mickey Fisher, who created CBS’ short-lived science fiction drama “Extant” starring Halle Berry, created “Reverie” and wrote its pilot. Fisher employs the well-worn trope of the heroine scarred by a horrifying loss lured back into her old role by a trusted colleague.
Mara Kint (Sarah Shahi) was a talented hostage negotiator for an unnamed police department, whose expertise nonetheless couldn’t prevent a family tragedy. As the pilot begins, the thirtysomething human behavior expert is a college professor. While charming in the classroom, away from it, Kint is heavily medicating herself with pills and booze.
When her old boss, Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert, “24”), re-enters her life, however, it changes. A former police chief, Ventana was initially a security consultant to the fictitious Onira Tech, but has become one of the firm’s financial partners. The company has developed the virtual reality software of the show’s title.
“Reverie,” Ventana enthusiastically explains to Kint, “is where the impossible becomes possible.” And you can create “waking dreams of your own design, even bringing loved ones back from the dead.”
As infatuated as he is, Ventana acknowledges a serious downside to these fabricated worlds. Some travelers to them have become addicted to their manufactured environments, and have consequently “severed ties with reality,” leaving their bodies trapped in comas. The ex-police chief wants the professor to go in and bring these lost souls back to the land of the living.
Hip-hop performer and actor Common famously proclaims in a current Microsoft commercial: “We are living in the future we’ve always dreamed of. With AI empowering us to change the world we see.”
To its credit, “Reverie,” cautions against such unbridled optimism about the putatively limitless potential of cutting-edge technologies. The show suggests that people with obligations toward others, and on whom others depend, can’t surrender themselves to fantasies. Life is worthwhile because we help one another get through situations we wouldn’t include in a dream world.
Despite “Reverie’s” fundamentally positive message, there’s something troubling about the company team’s cavalier, even mean-spirited attitudes. The software inventor of the Reverie program, Alexis Barrett (Jessica Lu), and the chief “dreammaker,” Paul Hammond (Sendhil Ramamurthy), seem more concerned with the impact of people’s aberrant behavior on their program than its harmful effects on its users.
Although Ventana expresses concern over the human suffering Reverie causes, he, too, seems more preoccupied with fixing the software issue to protect his investment — which could reap exponential profits if the technological problem is properly resolved.
How Kint learns to navigate the overlapping virtual and actual worlds will ultimately reveal where the producers stand on the thorny ethical and moral issues the series raises. Although the pilot wraps up tidily and well, it also suggests that Kint will encounter more sinister forces, internally and externally, before the season ends.
Monica Shaw (Kathryn Morris, “Cold Case”), a venture capitalist with Department of Defense ties who makes an intriguing appearance at the initial episode’s end, will likely figure prominently in the long-term resolution.
“Reverie” doesn’t feature any of the strong language or sexuality that distressingly characterize too many TV productions. But the complexity of its ethical questions and its psychological intensity, together with depictions of murder, suicide and substance abuse, make the show most appropriate for an adult audience.
On the basis of the pilot alone, it’s hard to tell whether the series will win viewers over. A strong set design, which nicely conveys the virtual reality’s other-worldliness, and the possibly intriguing, though not necessarily “high,” concept may help. The presence of TV veterans Haysbert (who lends authority to everything he does) and Morris should also attract a following.
Still, there are reasons why some shows are green-lighted for 10 weeks in the summer while others get 22 in the fall.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.