The elusive and exciting world of dreams comes to life tonight with USA Network's new drama from producers Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead), Blake Masters (Brotherhood), and the late Henry Bromell (Homeland).
Falling Water is the mesmerizing story of three strangers who find themselves connected in a series of shared dreams, and while the premise may sound fantastical, the portrayal of dreaming is very much grounded in reality.
Dr. Moran Cerf, professor of neuroscience and business at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, was a key participant in an eye-opening new study on how we dream. He says that USA's new show is on the money when it comes to bringing the dreamworld to television. And here's how.
The dreams look like reality.
As we explore the narratives of the three main characters this season -- Tess (Lizzie Brocheré), a trend-spotter looking for her son; Burton (David AJala), a financial "fixer" with a missing lover; and Taka (Will Yun Lee), an NYPD offier with a catatonic mother -- we travel between both the waking world and the dreamscape. While some might assume that the dream sequences would include a lot of flying unicorns, Cerf affirms that how we see our dreams in Falling Water is a lot like how we see reality.
"Dreams are actually very similar to reality and they did it the way the should have," the scientist notes. "For instance, it doesn’t look like Tess is floating; it looks like she’s walking... some things are different, but all together? Dreams look like reality. We don’t just fly around and look at unicorns and dragons."
All the right mechanics are there.
Cerf, whose recent extensive research on dreaming culminated with this fascinating TED talk, says that Falling Water passes the sniff test when it comes to what a sleep study looks like.
With real-life sleep labs in Boston and Chicago, Cerf applauded the show's use of side-by-side beds and EEG machines, complete with scalp electrodes. "They got it right, the technicality of it," Cerf told USA Network.
Well, almost. A sleep lab wouldn't have windows. "I get why the rooms aren’t dark," he laughed. "You want to see the characters."
Falling Water uses just enough terminology.
In the first episode of Falling Water, you'll meet Bill Boerg (Zak Orth), a millionaire with a makeshift sleep lab in a hotel, who -- for reasons still unknown -- is looking to connect strangers in their dreams. As the show continues to concern itself with what happens while we sleep, it's careful to use the correct vocabulary.
"They use a few terms that come from dream science, such as 'REM sleep,' but only every now and then," explained Cerf. "I think they didn’t want to lose the audience; it's just enough."
When those terms come up, however, it's cool for Cerf to hear their incorporation to the story: "I'd say, 'Oh! They used the right term!'
Each week will capture something true about dreams.
In every episode of Falling Water, there’s at least one thing Cerf can say is accurate about how we dream. For instance, when an artist says that an idea for a painting came to her in a dream, it's reflective of how dreams figure into our real lives.
"This is something that we know is true -- that dreams are connected to creativity," Cerf told USA. "So there’s enough in every episode to satisfy even an observing scientist."
Here, Cerf talks about how Falling Water could inspire fellow scientists to question what's possible in field of dream study.