‘Falling Water’: Dreams Drag Down Drama

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

Have you ever asked someone how they slept the previous night and that person says, “Oooh, I gotta tell you about this amazing dream I had!,” and proceeds to give you intricate details about wandering down endless corridors, showing up naked in the supermarket, and so on — all the while boring you stiff? That’s a little bit what it’s like watching Falling Water, the new USA show premiering on Thursday.

The show follows three protagonists, initially unknown to one another, who are united by their dreams, which contain vivid imagery that may or may not spill over into reality. A woman named Tess (Lizzie Brocheré) searches for her child — one that may never have existed. In another plot, Burton (David Ajala) oversees security for a big investment firm and keeps having visions of a mysterious woman whom, in the dream, he almost has dinner with in a restaurant — they just never seem to make it past the Would you like a drink? stage. Then there’s Taka (Will Yun Lee), a Manhattan cop who has dreams about the aged, catatonic mother he cares for in real life. In his dreams, she’s younger and engaged in odd activities with a group of people Taka does not recognize.

There’s also a specialist in dream study, played by Zak Orth (Revolution), who tries to enlist Tess in his research with lots of chatter about “ripples in the Jungian collective consciousness” and “a revolution in our understanding of human existence.” If Orth’s Bill Boerg is supposed to be our way into the series, our guide, he’s an awfully fatuous one.

Falling Water was co-created by Blake Masters (Brotherhood) and the late Henry Bromell, who died far too soon in 2013. I was a big Bromell fan, from his short stories before he worked in television, through his TV work on Homicide: Life on the Street, and especially his marvelous one-season-wonder Rubicon (2010). The latter was a twisty suspense story that was complex, yet paid off constantly in small, satisfying ways.

The problem with Water is that it keeps promising revelations that are constantly withheld, as though we might not keep watching if the show tipped its hand about what all this dream investigation is really about. The thing is, if you withhold information from an audience too long, said audience is liable to think the waiting isn’t worth the effort, especially nowadays, when there are many other TV shows that withhold information to watch instead, from Westworld to Blindspot. Maybe USA Network thought, after the success of the first season of Mr. Robot, it should invest more heavily in the mysterious drama genre, but I wonder how many viewers are going to get hooked on solving this puzzle.

Falling Water airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on USA.