“One of the great things about doing a show that’s set largely in the landscape of the mind or of dreams is that it presents infinite possibilities,” says “Medium” creator-showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron about his 100-episode-strong series, which has a visual aesthetic that covers the intimate messiness of domestic drama, the suspenseful creep of a crime thriller and the anything-goes realm of heroine Allison Dubois’s nightly visions.
When he pitched the show to NBC, Caron likened the style he wanted to the tonal mix of early Jonathan Demme movies like “Something Wild.”
“I wanted you to see this woman consumed with being a good parent, and then right up against that is all this darkness and murder and death, and then these moments of inevitable humor that come from family life,” Caron says.
In establishing the visual template of a show with such an outlandish premise, Caron wanted to “cordon off the dreams” so that scenes with the Dubois family and at the district attorney’s office felt real.
“Everything that wasn’t a dream needed to be presented as mundanely as possible,” says Caron, who, with the show’s first cinematographer, Ken Kelsch, steered away from the increasingly common hyper-stylized procedurals. “I wanted the sense that it’s less photographed than captured, something observed as opposed to something staged.”
Allison’s dreams, meanwhile, have been a creative boon for the show, whether played as subtle alterations of real life or as phantasmagoric interludes. One episode opened with a colorful musical number with star Patricia Arquette dancing, lip-syncing to “I Will Survive” and kicking animated notes on a staff (before she wakes up to realize the song won’t leave her head and she’s the only one who can hear it).
Other episodes have re-created the look of a ’60s television show and a scratched black-and-white silent melodrama. For a Halloween-episode dream sequence this season, Arquette was inserted into the film “Night of the Living Dead.”
“That comes from an idea I had back on ‘Moonlighting,'” Caron says, referring to his ’80s-era series. “We were going to use the matte process to put Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd into ‘Mothra vs. Godzilla.’ We never got around to it, but I resurrected the idea of putting people into movies.”
The show’s blood-chilling factor has earned it some notoriety, too, particularly a fourth-season episode featuring a child lured from a store by a predator and later found murdered in a toy box. Caron says he and the writers don’t treat such storylines flippantly.
“In a world that’s become extraordinarily callous and difficult to shock,” Caron acknowledges, “how do you remind people how horrible these crimes really are?”
Ultimately, though, Caron says “Medium” — despite its psychic construct — adheres to a storytelling and stylistic mantra as old as Hitchcock and Val Lewton films.
“So much is done through suggestion,” he says. “What you show, and then what you withhold, are equally important.”