It was all just a dream. Right? Plenty of our favorite sitcoms, dramas and comedies tug at reality with the oft-used “the character was just dreaming” trope. But when used wisely, the old trick can lead to solid introspection and characterization. We dug deep and ranked the nine most underrated dream sequences of TV. No, you won't find agent Dale Cooper's famous vision of a short, dancing man. Rather, you get Al Bundy and the incarcerated inhabitants of Oz prison. Their REM-inspired musings are all masterfully executed — and woefully under emphasized.
9. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Phantasms” (October 25, 1993)
As this episode proved, androids don't dream of electric sheep. When the crew of the Enterprise is being feasted upon by a species of space creature as they sleep, Data, the Enterprise’s loveable albino cyborg, experiences his first nightmare. After investigating with a hologram of Sigmund Freud (hey, it’s the future), he realizes his “dream program” is trying to alert him to an ongoing menace.
8. M.A.S.H., “Dreams” (February 18, 1980)
In this surreal episode of the Korean War dramedy, Hawkeye, Radar and the rest of thge M.A.S.H team perform 33 hours of surgeries without sleep. After it ends, each member experiences a vivid nightmare that puts their psyches on display. Hawkeye, played by Alan Alda (who also directed the episode), dreams of being unable to attend to a wounded soldier's severed limb — and finds himself beside a river littered with detatched arms and legs; in another dream, a staffer's bed is placed in the middle of a blood-drenched battlefield. The conclusion? The medics are happier to be awake and knee-deep in casualties than asleep and left to their imaginations. And the bold choice to remove the show's signature laughtrack makes it all the more stark.
7. The Dick Van Dyke Show, “It May Look Like A Walnut” (February 6, 1963)
Spoiler alert: Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman in the opening credits. In this obvious parody of a Twilight Zone episode, Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie watches a walnut-centric, sci-fi film before bed as his wife cowers under the covers. The rest of of the episode revolves around Rob, in a comedic waking nightmare, believing that the alien from the film is coming to steal his sense of humor (and, for some reason, his thumbs).
6. The Sopranos, “The Test Dream” (May 16, 2004)
When provoked, the failures buried in deep in our subconscious wriggle their way into our dreams —something Tony Soprano learned while holed up in the suite of the Plaza hotel to separate himself from the waves of retaliatory killings his minions are handing out. As he sleeps, Tony's dreams include a guilt-ridden confrontation with his deceased mother and an encounter with his high school coach. For a show that was no stranger to psychoanalytics, this episode mined the subconcious to provide viewers with intimate insight into Tony's personal turmoil.
5. The Twilight Zone, “Midnight Sun” (November 17, 1961)
No surprise that a series as twisted as The Twilight Zone dabbled in dreamplay. In this episode, the Earth’s orbit has been disturbed, causing it to gradually “fall” into the sun. Two women endure the temperature spike — and prepare for the end. The reality? The planet was actually moving away from the sun, dooming the Earth to freeze forever. Rod Serling, you tricky bastard.
4. Oz, “Famous Last Words” (February 25, 2001)
A subplot of this brutal, brilliant HBO prison drama saw inmate Tobias Beecher up for parole. His lawyer affirms that the board has approved his release, prompting Beecher to imagine life on the outside with his girlfriend and daughter; it even saw him escaping an assassination attempt by the Aryans. Of course, the darkness quickly returned. Tobias wakes up in his cell and realizes it was only a dream. The emotional spin made this a memorable episode, as did the fact that it marked the first time we saw the outside of the prison.
3. The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson (December 19, 2014)
To cap off his 2,000-plus episode run on the criminally underrated late night talk show, Scottish funster Craig Ferguson pretended his entire run on the show was just a dream. In a nod to the Bob Newhart show's classic ending, Ferguson woke up in bed with his former co-star Drew Carey. It was a subversive send-off that perfectly encapsulated Ferguson's absurdist brand of comedy — and made it clear that his show would be sorely missed.
2. The Cosby Show, “Cliff’s Nightmare” (1990)
Before the world caved in around him, Bill Cosby ate a sausage hoagie. And, in this episode of The Cosby Show, that hoagie caused him to fall asleep and dream a horrific nightmare starring The Muppets. Dr. Huxtable was charged with delivering a monster baby amidst a whirlwind of puppet-driven chaos, waking up in a panic and vowing to change his diet. The talking sandwich at the end earns this enigmatic episode big points.
1. Married...with Children, “Damn Bundys” (1997)
The sitcom our parents wouldn’t let us watch went to the dream well quite a few times. But, in this season 11 episode, the show scored big. Pigpen patriarch Al Bundy makes a deal with the Devil (A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Robert Englund), exchanging his soul for a chance to lead the Bears to the Superbowl. Unfortunately for Bundy, all of his friends and family end up there, too, annoying him to the point of desperation, and complete in a football challenge against Lucifer for the right to leave. Bundy wins and, in a rare moment of selflessness, declines the Devil’s temptation of women and money in order to spend time with his loved ones. Oh, Peg.