The first episode of Sky Atlantic’s Dreamland is like an explosive, fluorescent Alka-Seltzer dumped in a glass of water from a height of many metres: unruly and messy, with a slightly unpleasant aftertaste. Set in Margate (hence the irony-laden title), the first episode centres around the “mani-festival” of Trish (Doctor Who’s Freema Agyeman), in other words, a garish pink-themed baby shower with the intention of manifesting a girl (two boys apparently being the absolute threshold). It’s about as irksome as it sounds, failing to translate to a detached commentary on its insanity, instead acting as a first-hand sensory overload, as if you’re a disgruntled relative in the room rather than a fly on the wall.
Trish’s support network, consisting of her partner, Spence (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), two sisters, Clare and Leila (Gabby Best and Aimee-Fion Edwards respectively), mother (Frances Barber) and nan (Sheila Reid), facilitate the madness for the sake of their secure unit. However, the unexpected arrival of the third sister, Mel (a screen debut for Lily Allen), upsets the apple cart, knocking the family off their carefully cultivated equilibrium and unearthing long-buried secrets.
Once the volcanic energy of its opening episode subsides, a slightly more latchable rhythm ensues, and Dreamland becomes something akin to the innocuous entertainment of Sky Atlantic’s house sitcom style. Allen’s debut screen outing is rather enjoyable, and embodies Mel, as the somewhat cynical scope through which the audience views events, with a wry nonchalance that is appealing, if not a remarkable sensation.
As with many sitcoms of its ilk, Dreamland is tamer, more blunt and simply not as funny as it should be, mistaking garishness for outlandishness, a particular disappointment given the series’ origins as the riotous short written by Sharon Horgan. In the same vein, however, the series is held together by a tried and tested formula that prevents it from collapsing in on itself. It’s just a shame that its edges aren’t sharper.
Dreamland is released on Sky on 6th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Dreamland here: