By Jon Chase •
Famed critic Brooks Atkinson once said: "In the ideal sense nothing is uninteresting; there are only uninterested people." There is appealing wisdom in that philosophical nugget about the power of relativism and the individual capacity for wonder. It succumbs, however, to the simplest test: being in the company of a person, especially a love interest, who is earnestly attempting to explain a dream they had. Nothing could be more futile, more pointless, more exhaustively, agonizingly boring than being subjected to the random bits of horseshittery strung together by another person's brain into what all dream-havers believe to be a narrative of great import or entertaining diversion. (Proposed amendment to the social contract: Anyone who attempts an unsolicited dream description may be subjected to one (1) brisk, open-handed slap. This does not include children.)
Similarly, the dream sequence is often the phone-it-in, mid-season-three filler of choice for lazy sitcom writers, up there with greatest hits clip episodes. Except when it isn't. In the right hands dreams are a marvelous device for unlocking the bizarre, creating biiting social satire, or simply infusing some meta wackiness. Thus, we present this short list of sitcom's greatest dream sequences.
From one of the 80s greatest and most underrated sitcoms, this masterwork of meta simultaneously sends up the sitcom staple of lazy dream sequences, the plague of rerun TV, and American suburban boredom — while also foreshadowing the modern concept of binge-watching. To the uninitiated, Alf is a cat-eating alien living with the Tanner family. In this episode his obsession with Gilligan's Island leads to a fever dream where he joins the castaways on their deserted island of 23 years. The climax of meta-dom is when the castaways gather around a coconut tv to watch an episode about Alf's adoptive family, the Tanners.
Comedians' comedian Bob Newhart was a master of the sitcom with his first show, "The Bob Newhart Show," which ran from 1972 to 1978. In the finale of his equally beloved followup series, in which he plays the owner of a quaint Vermont inn, Newhart's property is being sold off to Japanese businessman to be made into a golf course and at the end of the episode he wakes up in bed, switches on the light and turns to his wife — and viewers instantly realize it is the bedroom "The Bob Newhart Show." In the bed was his Newhart Show wife played by Suzanne Plechette, thus revealing that the entire eight-year run of the followup show was simply a dream. In other hands it would be maudlin and hacky, but instead the deadpan master's pitch-perfect touch made the episode iconic.
Everyone's parent's favorite hospital dramedy pulled off what could be a dreadfully gimmicky episode and instead was a tour de force exploration of the main characters' fantasies and worries, including a spot-on parody of the already played out zombie trend. In House's realm, Hugh Laurie's charater grapples with grim news about Cuddy along with his Vicodin habit, and in a dream finds himself wanders around the decrepit halls of his hospital looking for his cadre of whipping boys before discovering Chase, who has been turned to a brain-eater. After some surprisingly good choreographed fighting House dons his trademark cane which turns out to now have an axe blade, which he puts to good use. He gradually adds a pump handle and trigger and it becomes a shotgun, and suddenly House is Bronson's deathwish, dispatching residents with gusto. It's terrifically gory and hilarious, a worthy spoof in the same vein as Shaun of the Dead.
This irreverent short from "Sesame's Street"'s 24th season is refreshing proof that not all shows lose their edge with age. In it every kid's favorite binge eater goes to town on a pile of cookies and ends up slipping into a food coma where he encounters a giant monster baked good who offers a long tale explaining that he came to be as a result of overeating cookies. The bit marks the modern, sad tipping point when Cookie Monster confronts his poor diet choices and vows to begin eating veggies instead, though reassuringly he ends the bit by eating a cookie, showing he is, after all, only monster.
The criminally underrated '90s workplace sitcom featured a pitch perfect ensemble cast—Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Phil Hartman and Andy Dick amonth others — and this dream episode showcased the blade-sharp writing and each of their comedy chops perfectly. When the office AC thermostat conks out, the staff undergoes heat-induced hallucinations, each revealing their darkest fantasies and fears. The unapologetically lascivious Bill McNeal is clutch Phil Hartman at his finest, and will trigger instant misties for those who remember and miss him.