Random Pop Culture Top Ten List
Top 10 Dream Sequences in Television
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) weekly list in which the writers at Review to Be Named take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

The dream sequence is an established format for communicating the inner desires of characters, for examining the decisions they have made, and for looking at their deep-seated insecurities. Dream sequences can also serve as an excuse for a show to dabble in absurdity, a chance to foreshadow what's to come for the main characters, or even as the ultimate cop-out for either a retcon or a show's ending. This week, Random Pop Culture Top Ten List looks at some of the best dream sequences in television history. [WARNING: The following list may contain spoilers about the shows discussed, especially when the dream serves to foreshadow events to come. Attempts will be made to keep the spoilers vague and minimal].

10. "Freudian Sleep", Frasier

Following a day when his call-in show receives no callers, Frasier, Niles, and Daphne invite themselves along with Martin for a weekend at a cabin in the woods. What follows is a series of dreams from each of the characters, examining their worries and fears. Frasier dreams of killing is brother and marrying Daphne, and also of a months-long period in which he receives no callers. After disparaging Frasier for taking his dreams so seriously, Niles dreams of being a bad father and dropping his baby, and Daphne dreams of becoming immensely overweight. Finally, we are given a view into Martin's psyche, where he dreams about adopting a positive attitude, set to "The Sunny Side of the Street." Each dream reveals something about where the characters are at this point in the series, and how they relate to one another.

9. St. Elsewhere, Everything

After 6 seasons and 137 episodes, St. Elsewhere came to an end by revealing that the entire preceding series had occurred within the mind of the autistic Tommy Westphall, as he stared into a snow globe. This scene also implies that Tommy's father, Donald was not a doctor as the show had portrayed him all along, but was in fact a construction worker. So, hope you enjoyed wasting six seasons worth of time watching ongoing stories that weren't even actually occurring in the show's fictional universe, which, for the most part, didn't even exist. Read this as a commentary on the artifice that is television or as the ultimate cop-out of an ending as you see fit.

8. "Lucy Goes to Scotland", I Love Lucy

The characters in I Love Lucy went many places during the show's run. They traveled across America to Hollywood, around Europe, and even into the countryside of Connecticut (not to mention to Japan, among other places on the series continuation, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour). But one place they never actually went was Scotland. Instead, the trip there occurs entirely inside a dream of Lucy's, in which she, being a member of the McGillicuddy clan, must be sacrificed to a ferocious two-headed dragon (played by Ethel and Fred) unless she can be saved by a dashing villager (Ricky, of course) who pledges to do battle on her behalf. The episode provided a chance for the cast to play wildly against type in an entirely different format, and allowed for some very strange storytelling that never would have fit within the reality of the show.

7. "City on the Edge of Forever", South Park

The children are taking a field trip into the mountains when their bus nearly careens over a cliff. While cantankerous Ms. Crabtree goes for help, the children are left on the bus to reminisce past experiences in the face of their apparently imminent demise. Every memory they share is slightly altered from how it actually occurred on the show, including the fact that each adventure ends with everyone eating ice cream. When the bus finally falls, Cartman wakes up in his bed, only to be served a breakfast of beetles by his mother, which leads to Stan waking up from his very strange dream. "City on the Edge of Forever" allows South Park to riff on the idea of the dream sequence in television, including the "dream-within-a-dream" joke that often ends these episodes. Plus, everyone gets to eat a lot of ice cream, which is always a good thing.

6. "The Attic", Dollhouse

After hearing about The Attic as the place where dysfunctional dolls are sent throughout the run of Dollhouse, curiosity was incredibly high when Echo and her friends were finally sent there. It is quickly revealed that The Attic traps people within their own nightmares in an endless loop while the nefarious Rossum Corporation uses their fear to power its computer servers. The episode follows Echo through the dream-like realm of The Attic as Echo travels through the minds of her friends, and some complete strangers, trying to save them from a shadowy predator and find a way back into the real world. The episode delivers on the promise that The Attic is a terrifying place by allowing dream logic to create the perfect hell for Rossum's enemies to rot in. The dream of the Japanese programmer in particular will leave you shuddering for weeks.

5. "Perfect Circles", Six Feet Under

After the cliffhanger that ended Season Two with Nate going into risky brain surgery, Six Feet Under's third season begins with Nate living a very different life, with a very different family. After enjoying a strange Christmas dinner with this alternate Fisher clan, and spending some time with Lisa and their child and viewing himself in several different potential outcomes of his surgery, Nate is whisked away by his dead father Nathaniel to get something to eat prior to attending his own funeral. The opener allows for Six Feet Under to dabble in the absurdity it does so well, in addition to playing off of viewers anxieties and foreshadowing what is to come in Nate's life over the rest of the episode, the season, and arguably even the series.

4. Newhart, Everything

Newhart ran for 8 seasons and 184 episodes before it reached "The Last Newhart," in which the entire town is purchased by a Japanese businessman and turned into a golf course. Dick Loudon plows on through his increasingly strange existence, until finally, Dr. Robert Hartley, Newhart's character from the 1970's sitcom The Bob Newhart Show wakes up in his own bed, turns and tell his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the previous show) about the strange dream he had, and the beautiful blonde he was married to in it. The ending of Newhart is widely considered one of the great series finales of all time, both for its parody of shows who tried this technique seriously (like St. Elsewhere from above) and for its callback to the former career of the show's beloved star.

3. "The Test Dream", The Sopranos

Throughout its run, The Sopranos became notorious for its highly symbolic and deeply meaningful dream sequences. The show managed to perfectly mix the absurd logic that goes along with dreams and psychological symbolism that allowed viewers a window into the deep recesses of Tony Soprano's subconscious. Perhaps the most significant of these dreams (and arguably the longest), "The Test Dream" follows Tony on a path towards committing a murder he dreads (and one his waking self knows by this point is unavoidable). Along the way, Tony converses with many of his former victims, including those he killed himself and those whose deaths were his fault. He also confronts a coach from his past who gave Tony an opportunity to pursue a different life, and gets chased by an angry mob led by Annette Bening. Finally, Tony rides his ill-fated horse into the home he has been removed from and attempts to negotiate his reentry with his wife, who tells him "you can't bring that in here with you." The dream outlines the acts Tony will commit throughout the rest of the season, and also provides insight into the guilt that resides at the center of his life, and the moral and ethical compromises he constantly makes to keep his increasingly unstable existence afloat.

2. "Restless", Buffy the Vampire Slayer

At the end of a seemingly directionless season and after dispatching the Big Bad in the previous episode, Buffy prepares to relax and take in a movie marathon with her friends, all of whom are too troubled from the ordeal they just survived to sleep. But before the opening credits roll on the first movie, the gang all fall asleep, and we are provided entry into their subconscious's as they are hunted by an ancient force. The episode not only allows for some hilarious absurdism (including Spike as Giles' apprentice and a very strange man who appears in each dream to make a comment involving cheese), it also puts the entire season into perspective as it examines the internal forces that have divided and threatened to conquer these characters over the past season, and it provides a blueprint for what Buffy will go through for the rest of the series.

1."Zen, Or the Skill to Catch a Killer," Twin Peaks

Perhaps the definitive television dream sequence, and a definite influence on all that followed it (especially #2 and #3 on this list), Agent Cooper's dream at the end of the third episode of the series is probably the weirdest thing to ever be broadcast on network television (which should surprise no one as it came from the mind of David Lynch). At the end of another long day investigating the murder of Laura Palmer, Cooper has a classically Lynchian dream in which he encounters two men who seem to be intimately involved n Palmer's death, and is then rocketed forward 20 years into the future, where a dwarf known only as The Man From Another Place sits in a red room with an aged Cooper and a woman who looks a lot like Laura Palmer, and lays out for Cooper the path to the killer, all while speaking backwards and dancing to the eerie jazz score that provides the backdrop to much of the series. Cooper's dream is a wonderfully surreal segment that introduces some of the show's long form mythology, plays with the viewers perceptions, and provides Cooper with the framework to solve the murder at the center of the show.

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