Dream Corp LLC: Adult Swim’s Trippy New Series

We spoke with Daniel Stessen and Jon Gries, the mad scientists behind Adult Swim's Dream Corps LLC.

There’s always pomp and circumstance around the arrival of a new Adult Swim series. You just never know how weird or different their new offering is going to be, or how obsessed you’re going to become with their latest piece of crazy. Dream Corp LLC comes from Daniel Stessen and stars Jon Gries as Dr. Roberts, a mad scientist of sorts who actually dives into people’s dreams as a means of curing them of their ailments. Oh, and the dream world is depicted as a beautiful, rotoscoped playground unlike anything else you’ve ever seen on the network.

In honor of the premiere of the series on Sunday, we got the opportunity to strap ourselves into the dream chair with the show’s creator, Daniel Stessen, and Jon Gries, who portrays the doctor responsible for all of this mad science. We touch base on their personal experiences with dreams, the show’s influences, and the joys of “British everything.”

Den Of Geek: What is it about dreams that fascinates you guys?

Daniel Stessen: I mean, we do not know why they happen. It’s the unknown. We don’t know where we go when we die, or when we go to sleep. That’s a line from our composer who’s doing the score for the show. Are you familiar with him?

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I am not, but the score’s incredible.

DS: The score’s amazing.

Dreams seem to have such a limitlessness to them as a topic. After you’ve established the show a little, would you be into trying to explore more topics in the area, like looking at a dog’s dreams for instance, or a robot’s dreams or something?

Jon Gries: Haha, that’s very funny! In episode four we actually explore–we do investigate Terry the robot’s dreams.

Oh awesome! Answering the age old question as to whether androids dream of electric sheep. Along those lines, would either of you be interested in getting into more nightmare-ish things, too? Topics like fever dreams, night terrors, sleep paralysis?

DS: Yeah, absolutely. As long as it ends up being funny, Adult Swim should be able to let us run with it. You know, I had night terrors when I was younger. I had a recurring night terror where this huge, red wall. It was taller and wider than anything ever. Bigger than us. It had this deep voice that’s so low it would like run under our feet. One time I woke up in my next door neighbor’s parents’ bedroom screaming, “They’re coming. They’re coming!”

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This was also in Upstate New York so the dad was just like–boom, shotgun, walking around outside. And meanwhile the mom is like trying to tell me it’s all okay as I’m on their couch. That’s when my parents were like, “Okay, you might need to see a therapist about this…” I was also just so scared to go to bed in general.

Of course!

DS: So I was seeing this therapist and he helped me figure out what that big, red thing was, and then I never had that dream again.

JG: It was very Dr. Roberts of him.

DS: Although now after talking about it all so much, I’m probably going to start having those night terrors all over again.

You’ve doomed yourself! Daniel, talk a little bit about the show’s look and art design in the real world. There’s like a very MST3K, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and even a sort of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace aesthetic to things that’s really nice. It’s all so broken.

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DS: Yes! “Broken” is the word that we kept using. I love Terry Gilliam. He’s a huge inspiration of mine. I love Garth Marenghi. I love British everything! I love the British humor and dry humor of just throwing lines away.

But in regards to the space, we’d always say that it’s “Broken Kubrick.” There’s just something really funny about first generation technology. Like, we have an idea of the future–when we think about the future it’s this clean, beautiful place–buy we never really think about how we’re going to get there. So I think it’s funny…You can just look at an old phone and laugh! Using that idea, there’s comedy built into the first generation of comedy, so we sort of leaned into that. There’s nothing funnier than an old Commodore 64 next to a flat screen Vizio.

JG: And Dr. Roberts is loaded with first generation technology.

DS: Yeah, if it works, he puts it in. The whole room feels like–when he gets a new piece of technology, it’s going in if it works!

The show’s got a bit of an interesting structure built into it where it sort of necessitates roving guest stars visiting the Dream Corp to be analyzed. Why did that feel like the right sort of approach for things?

DS: Just because of the way that people get their information now. It feels like everything’s become so disposable. So as a device, for television, I felt like that’s how we can always keep it fresh. It’s also a nice way to re-occur the patient if they don’t get fixed or have some sort of follow-up. They might wake up cured of whatever they went there for, but then they have something else wrong with them. You know, June Squibb could show up pregnant!

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It’s also smart to use Nick Rutherford’s character as sort of the audience surrogate and joining this team as an outsider. Was that always the set-up in place with the show?

DS: Well in the original pilot that wasn’t the case. There he just came in, but when Rutherford auditioned for the role my mind just opened up. Every single line he said was exactly how I wrote it. I’ve never experienced that before. Then having John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant involved gave me the sort of confidence to use that British Office formula; like I had permission to use “Jim from The Office” as a formula when I literally have Jim from The Office working with me.

You mention John Krasinski as an executive producer, talk a little about his role in all of this.

DS: He’s just been such a brilliant, supportive friend, first and foremost. He has just made so many episodes of television that when I showed him the pilot originally, he was like, “Can I produce this?” Since then, he’s gotten to the core–what he’s done most for me is simplify my ideas. Stripping everything down and I’ve learned so much for him and Steve Merchant through this whole process. They’re just such supportive men. We’ve had an amazing collaboration that’s never feeling forced. I have the freedom of taking their advice but then doing it all in my own style.

Dr. Roberts is a great take on a sort of modern mad scientist. Jon, do you have a favorite mad scientist throughout pop culture? Someone that could be a contemporary for Dr. Roberts?

JG: The original Baron Munchausen. Not the remake. The remakes didn’t even get close. The original was Czechoslovakian, I think. There was something just about that character for me. And Dr. Roberts, he’s not even really a mad professor, but he IS. He’s a scientist in his way. And there’s this incredible fantasy that goes along with him.

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When I was a kid that was always one of the things that I would do. I had this little black and white TV that was discarded by my parents and I would hold it up in my bedroom, staying up late watching. Whenever there was going to be a movie on that was inviting into the fantasy genre, I couldn’t wait. Baron Munchausen was one of my favorites. There’s just such a sense of that look. It’s so fascinating to see how much more control Dr. Roberts has when he’s going into dreams, versus when he’s out of them. In the lab he’s a little more all over the place. But there was nobody that I really touched on to get into that character. There was just something on the page that was really distinct and we kept honing it in.

Lastly guys, is there a particular set piece or moment from the season that you’re excited for people to see? A moment where things really clicked together?

JG: There’s too many of them!

DS: I feel like there’s one in every episode for sure.

JG: Oh, no question. There are moments in the lab and then there are moments in the dreams. And there are moments that I’m not even in! It’s just the show itself is the star and it’s the brainchild of Daniel Stessen. There are moments in the show that are purely satisfying as an audience member. I’m completely absorbed and involved, and so excited to be a part of it!

Dream Corp LLC premieres on Adult Swim on Sunday, October 23 at 11:45pm

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