Adult Swim’s programming already features several shows that could make viewers wonder if they’ve dozed off and started conjuring images of talking dogs, mad scientists, and clowns who work in hospitals. So the addition of Dream Corp LLC, an ostensible workplace comedy that centers on a rundown “dream therapy facility,” feels like a natural fit. At just 11 minutes long, Daniel Stessen’s live-action/animation hybrid is packed with absurd humor and features a tight ensemble whose antics are immensely watchable, even if they are usually office-bound. The new series won’t quite haunt your dreams, but it will grab your full attention during Adult Swim’s graveyard shift.
The team is led by Dr. Roberts (Jon Gries), the frizzy-haired head of the psychotherapeutic facility that doesn’t appear sterile enough to be a beauty salon, let alone a place for outpatient procedures. But the Dream Corp LLC employees are operating on the fringes of medicine, where projecting a patient’s dreams onto a screen for viewing by even those without medical degrees isn’t considered a HIPAA violation. That’s just the beginning of the improprieties, but damnit, they (sort of) get results. They claim to cure all sorts of medical problems—including the impotence tackled in the premiere—by sending patients into their most disturbing dreams to trace the psychological roots of these physical conditions.
Elsewhere in the Dream Corp offices, we have a robot voiced by Stephen Merchant (one of the executive producers), a second-in-command played by Mark Proksch, and a relentlessly perky intern (Stephanie Allynne). Ahmed Bharoocha is also on Cheeto-dusted hand as a nurse with a questionable bedside manner. Even in this brief introduction, it’s made clear that they’ve all (with the exception of intern Joey) been working together for years. The cast is similarly cohesive, effortlessly bouncing jokes off each other when they’re not completing each other’s punchlines. There isn’t a weak link to be found: Proksch’s throwaway lines land, even when they’re muttered out of earshot, while Allynne’s unnerving cheeriness just dials up the absurdity. And no one, not even T.E.R.R.Y. (Merchant), is above making dick jokes about an unconscious man who’s in the middle of confronting his fears. They’re never mean-spirited, but they might be a step below the Childrens Hospital staff in the quality of patient care. And it won’t matter that those admitted are played by celebrities (including Geoffrey Arend, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and June Squibb).
Gries, best known for his work on Lost and in Napoleon Dynamite, plays the doctor as equal parts madman and understanding boss. The comedy setup doesn’t require any logic behind Roberts’ work or his staff’s devotion to him, but Gries turns him into a visionary in short order. When Patient 88 (Nicholas Rutherford) struggles in the rotoscoped landscape of a conjured confrontation with a ’90s sitcom star, Roberts dives right in to guide him out of his self-doubting mentality. But this is also the same guy who keeps track of how many patients have peed themselves during procedures in that week alone and who’s running an experimental (read: probably illegal) practice, so it’s not all heroics.
There’s a detached outsider in Patient 88, who could be the Ryan Howard of the bunch if he hadn’t soiled himself on his first day. That’s one of the side effects of having his fears interpreted into animated sequences that, while not revolutionary, are still visually striking. You’ll be tempted to analyze what’s going on in the periphery even as the aforementioned sitcom star seeds a whole forest in seconds, or a nightmarish cafeteria worker becomes a sympathetic figure. Stessen, who was also behind the lovely The Gold Sparrow, balances the live action with these augmented scenes, in part by making sure the action of the real world is just as outlandish as what’s unfolding on the facility’s screens.
The workplace comedy angle was played up ahead of Dream Corp LLC’s release, as Merchant and John Krasinski serve as executive producers. Merchant, of course, created The Office with Ricky Gervais, which was adapted into the long-running sitcom on NBC that starred Krasinski (who also directed a few episodes). So there’s no escaping comparisons to Wernham Hogg or Dunder Mifflin. But while Dream Corp LLC certainly has a delusional boss, his fervor is matched by almost everyone around him—the lunatics are not only running the asylum, they’re also practically embedded in it (Proksch’s character admits he hasn’t left the facility in 15 years). The series steers clear of a sitcom construct. Dream Corp LLC is firmly planted in surreal territory, where it’s likely to blossom.