2 out of 5
Created by: Daniel Stessen
covers season 1 and 2
Comedy that relies on some kind of sensory overload – random humor; surreal humor – generally requires some sense of balance to work. A whole bunch of silly images on their own aren’t going to be that funny; a non-stop onslaught of nonsense can find its way to laughs – looking at you, Xavier: Renegade Angel – but the balance there is in allowing that onslaught to level out into something that ends up somewhat resembling sense, otherwise you’re sort of doing the same thing as the silly image flip-through.
Dream Corp LLC has a fittingly quirky setup for an Adult Swim short: the titular company is led and run by a group of misfits (including a Stephen Merchant-voiced robot) which claims to cure patients of fears and neuroses through some patented dream walking. This opens up the visual possibility of exploring those dreams, which are rendered in a Waking Life rotoscoped-adjacent style, while the misfit crew invariably misdoses anesthetic, or puts the patient in danger, or causes hinky side effects like complete memory loss. Jon Gries frizzy-haired Dr. Roberts always gets things to a win, but he’s equally distracted by his own musings and quirks; Mark Proksch’s Randy forgets to monitor the tech when he gets into arguments with his roommate robot, T.E.R.R.Y. And Nick Rutherford, “patient 88” – Dream Corp doesn’t refer to people like names, as dehumanization helps with the process – is our straight man, who’s “cure” for his aimlessness is to take up permanent residence on the staff at Dream Corp.
I’m laughing at this. It conceptually works. And the interactions and running gags with these characters do work, informed by great comedic acting from all of the principles, including a rotating Dr. Roberts assistant, played by Stephanie Allynne in season 1 and Megan Ferguson in season 2. Creator Daniel Stessen and a small team of writers find a good balance between harmless scientists and mad ones, and the tone is unhinged enough to allow for some pretty out there jokes.
And then there’s the dream side of things. The dreams are stitched together surreal pastiches, and Dream Corp just cannot settle on how it wants to handle these: are they plotted, actual parts of the episodes? Or are the real-life antics the important stuff, and the dreams just visual filler? It surely doesn’t have to be exclusively one or the other all the time, but there’s hardly an episode where a focus is chosen, aiming for a “best of both worlds” setup that instead just undermines both. Given fully over to the loopy logic of the dream world, these sequences might be more engaging, but they’re apt to just be the aforementioned silly images, which makes spending half of the episode there feel rather meaningless; back with our actors, episode storylines are half-assedly pursued as they’re inevitably going to be hijacked by the dream sequences – laughs or immersion simply never last long enough.
This piles on top of the show’s visual aesthetic, which feels like it’s trying too hard to stand out. I guess one’s mileage with rotoscoped stuff will vary, but I take issue more with the way the dream sequences are “normal” surreality – nothing seems too weird or outlandish, though I think it’s trying to be, and then the lab is juxtaposingly shot in harsh colors and lens flares as, perhaps, a play on gritty sci-fi but then also has a taint of trying too hard as well.
Buried beneath a hodgepodge of ‘too much yet not enough’ there’s a sound idea, with some really funny jokes and great actors delivering them.