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Sweet Dreams are Made on TV: How Dreaming is Represented in Television

Sweet Dreams are Made on TV: How Dreaming is Represented in Television

The world of television is full of all sorts of tropes, the likes of which take some element of the real and stretch it out or distort it so much that it’s closer to a parody of itself than a reflection. Whether it’s a grizzled, no nonsense badass jumping through glass unscathed or someone drinking so much that they relentlessly hiccup like an Acme cartoon, the world beyond the screen loves a hyperbole.

This notion seeps into almost every aspect of human life, no matter how menial or mundane. Of course, not all that’s portrayed on camera is utterly ridiculous, and even some of its clichés are actually fairly relatable; especially about how we dream.

Though the realm of dreams is bizarre, we often believe what’s unfolding before us in our sleep. Despite how often they shift in setting, themes and tones, the part of our brain that perceives reality shuts down as we slumber, which means (even as things swiftly and erratically change like grains of sand on the wind) we still accept what we see as undeniable truth.

Because of this, the seemingly unusual usage of dreams in television aren’t as farfetched as we may initially think. After all, we can all recall dreams that have followed us from the unconscious to those first moments of consciousness, dreams that have jolted us from a deep sleep and times in our lives when we’ve experienced at least one of the following fantasty-esque interpretations of dreaming.

Some, such as dreaming of prophecies or suddenly recalling repressed memories, aren’t very common outside of fiction. However, in the words of Stevie Nicks, ‘there are surely some dreams you’d like to sell’; which is good because writers for generations have done just that with stories about their dreams.

Below are just a handful of examples of this. The likes of which, we here at Happy Beds have explored for the sake of researching how television shows showcase dreams, as well as how realistic and relatable they are.

The Irritating and Old ‘It Was All Just a Dream’ Shtick: Breaking Bad


Image courtesy of Rolling Stone

An often-loathed mechanism that’s seen more or less all the time as lazy writing, saying that “it was all just a dream” is used when shows want to avoid explaining unusual choices or to end a story where they’ve painted themselves into a corner. They will simply pull the eject chord and have a character abruptly wake up, which makes the events prior completely pointless since they didn’t occur at all. Character development and plot twists can simply be wiped away, which rarely goes down well.

Nowadays this is mostly used for the sake of humour, since it’s generally accepted that the audience will have a negative reaction to this move being genuine.

Cases of this include the animated Netflix show, Big Mouth, where an episode ends with a medley of wacky call-backs and crazy occurrences, only for one of the series protagonists to wake up. The joke ‘reveal’ is that it was a ‘wet dream’ and the character talks it through, point by point, explaining how the trope is ridiculous with fourth wall breaking points like questioning how his dream had a sub plot that he wasn’t around to witness.

Then there’s the tongue-in-cheek ‘alternative ending’ of Breaking Bad, which falls back on Bryan Cranston’s equally well-known role as Hal, the dad in Malcolm in the Middle, waking up to show that the entirety of Breaking Bad was simply a dream of Cranston’s much tamer character.

Not only is this parody all the more striking due to its contrast with the starkly serious tone of the show, it’s built on with even more humour thanks to another television trope of utilising symbolism as a blatant cliff-hanger, as Hal looks around the room to see Heisenberg’s classic hat resting on a chair.

Despite this type of dream only being used for the sake of some laughs nowadays, in real life we can all recall a time when a dream has seemed so real, so shocking that when we’ve woken up we’ve thought “oh, that was just a dream”.

Whether it’s waking up convinced that your ex has been texting you or that you flew into work and punched the boss straight through the ceiling, that realisation that would be obvious to a bystander feels like a revelation to the dreamer.

The Immensely Convoluted Inception-Style of Dreaming: Rick and Morty


Image courtesy of Alphacoders

Although modern interpretations of diving into a dream have been based around technology that blurs the lines between science and magic, invading other people’s dreams has been present in film and television for a while now.

Films have had the iconic Freddy in the Nightmare on Elm’s Street franchise, while television has seen the more innocent dream hopping of SpongeBob SquarePants, though thanks to the phenomenal (and pretentious) film Inception inevitable parodies have arisen.

Perhaps the most popular (and arguably best) example of this tech-based dream invasion is from the hit Adult Swim show Rick and Morty. The parody is driven so hard that the titular Rick frequently references the film; even transforming the name into a verb by saying what they’re doing is ‘inception-ing’.

Like many of the set-ups for the fanciful plots of the show, the episode ‘Lawnmower Dog’ starts with Rick utilising his essentially omniscient genius to assist Morty with a relatively benign teenage task. Instead of helping Morty study for a test, Rick debuts an invention that allows them to transfer themselves into another person’s subconscious via their dreams.

As they get ‘deeper and deeper’ into Morty’s teacher’s dreams, they see different elements of his psyche, exploring superficial wish-fulfilment dreams, deeply repressed sexually themed dreams and primal fear driven dreams.

Unlike virtually every other type of dreaming that will be discussed, this ‘Inception’ style of dreaming isn’t really one that anyone (except for Leonardo DiCaprio) can relate to. Still, it does make you think about what your own subconscious would look like if someone were diving through it. I think we can all agree that, no matter who you are or what kind of life you live, there’d be some twisted stuff to find in anyone’s brain.

The Abruptly Revealing ‘Oh, So That’s How I Truly Felt’ Reflective Dream: Friends


Image courtesy of Play Buzz

Dreams acting as revelations are not unheard of, and the emotions felt within a dream can certainly linger long after waking up (I can personally attest that and report that it can really suck), but shocking twists like the one in Friends aren’t that common. It wouldn’t be entirely slanderous to label this sudden change of heart (somewhat literally, to that point) to be evidence that the writers were kind of running out of steam.

In an event that could easily be labelled as universally bewildering, season eight of Friends saw the long-time ladies’ man Joey start to develop romantic feelings for Rachel, despite her being pregnant with Ross’ child. Though there’s argument to be made that this twist overall matured Joey as a character and that a relationship with Rachel would be more realistic, organic and stable (much like what was blatantly the best part of the show; the unexpected relationship between Monica and Chandler) it was the means in which Joey had this epiphany that was handled oddly.

Through the series there are small hints to us as the audience and him as a character that feelings may be budding, though the moment Joey fully-comprehends that he has these feelings is somewhat abrupt. After going on a mock date with Rachel, Joey realises he had a genuinely good time despite knowing there would be no chance of ending the evening with sex (which is normally Joey’s whole thing) and dreams that he is in a relationship with her. He wakes from this dream with a smile on his face though suddenly sits upright, eyes somehow charmingly bulging, at the horror of what his heart wants.

It’s hard to imagine that many people have similarly realised that they’re in love with someone solely due to a dream, though as aforementioned revelations can, and have, come from a particularly shocking dream.

The Rare Yet Awesome ‘I Am the God of This Realm’ Lucid Dream: American Dad


Image courtesy of Recap Guide

For those not in the know, a ‘lucid dream’ refers to when a sleeper is aware that they are dreaming, yet not to the point where the brain wakes them up. It can result in the sleeper having a degree of control over the dream, such as the setting and those within the dream.

Personally I vividly recall one I had as a teenager when I was obsessed with Dragonball Z, so naturally I dreamt that I could fly and could do a Kamehameha wave; it was awesome.
Anyway, the finest example of lucid dreaming in television would be in the episode ‘Merlot Down Dirty Shame’ of American Dad. Though only a side story to the overall narrative of Stan, Francine and Roger at a wine tasting weekend, the story of Steve mastering lucid dreaming is both informative and hilarious.

Explaining to Klaus that he has trained himself by seeing a red ball bounce past him, Steve goes on a kind of lucid dream bender, constantly falling asleep around the house. Steve’s frequent sleeping and brash mockery begins to irritate Hayley and Klaus, prompting them to trick him into thinking that he was in a lucid dream, and therefore could do anything he wanted, to mess with him.

By acting unusual and obeying his commands, Hayley and Klaus convince Steve to go to school in his underwear, where he assaults a teacher, comes onto an attractive classmate and ultimately, believing he can fly, drags her out of the window, resulting in them both getting seriously injured.

The conclusion to this prank shows Steve in a full-body cast, angrily explaining that the girl’s parents might charge him for attempted murder, while Klaus simply giggles and focuses on the fact that Steve went to school in his underwear.

The point is that the episode showcases how, in a lucid dream, the sleeper can basically do whatever they want and create whatever they can imagine. You can train yourself to have lucid dreams, much like Steve did, but even with the time and effort put into these methods lucid dreams are still rare, unfortunately.

The Plain Perplexing ‘What the Hell Did I Just See?’ Fever Dream: Twin Peaks


Image courtesy of Dark Shadows Every Day

Then there’s just… weird dreams for the sake of being weird. Which, I think we can agree, are more or less the default setting for dreams. Either they’re monotonously dull or marvelously bizarre, but whichever way they go dreams often simply act as a means of our brains firing off random information.

To this day we don’t know exactly why we dream, much like how we don’t know what the hell the writers of Twin Peaks were trying to say when they created this now iconic scene from the show.

Parodied in a range of shows, from The Simpsons to Scooby Doo, the ‘Red Room’ or ‘Dwarf Dancing’ scene in Twin Peaks is hard to forget, and harder to gleam what purpose (if any) it serves to the story. It is, as previously stated, a weird dream that is weird for sake of being weird.

That or the writers intended it to have an incredibly hidden meaning, be rife with subtext or just stand out and be discussed. Honestly, remembering it is odd enough, so the less thought given to it the better.

What Are Your Favourite Dream Scenes?

There are plenty more examples of dreams in television that come to mind, but we’d love to hear which ones you remember. Tweet us, find us on Facebook and tag us on Instagram with the television shows that kept you up at night!

Check out our Comfort Zone for more blogs like this, as well as super sleep tips, and bedroom décor inspiration.

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