If you are a TV Hangover reader, you PROBABLY don’t need me to explain to you the premise of Awake, NBC’s new drama on Thursdays at 10pm, which premiered last night. But in case you do, here goes — Michael Britten (played by Jason Isaacs, he of Harry Potter and The State Within) is a police detective who believes that he exists in two realities: one, in which his teenaged son is killed in a car accident, and another in which his wife died instead. Britten is in therapy in both realities. Both realities are convinced that the other one is the dream. Neither reality is any less plausible than the first, which makes for a successful pilot. Post-production picks up Britten’s red rubber band/green rubber band cheat by lighting the universes differently, so it isn’t too difficult to follow the jumps. The possible plot directions which can fan out from Britten’s final declaration — that no matter who is right, he has no intention of choosing between his son and his wife — are textbook good television storyboarding. I genuinely hope this show gets the audience it deserves, as well as the support it needs from NBC. It shows more promise than Kyle Killen’s previous project, Lone Star, a hit among critics but a total flop with The Reals. (I liked Lone Star. It made good use of Mumford and Sons, and had a good production value. It was also basically boring.)
Awake hits me in my sweet spot. It’s the spot that once mapped an entire time travel paradox in Stargate SG-1, had a long and well-cited theory about the meaning of LOST (which turned out fairly decently, I might add), and has an enormous amount of respect for the Livejournaler who first noticed the repeat Doctor in Season 5 of Doctor Who solely because he wasn’t wearing a jacket briefly, in one incredibly close-up shot scene. Awake comes from a school of television that enjoys secret science fiction like Life On Mars and Ashes to Ashes. I don’t need to know if Michael Britten once ingested a crystal in a meal at the Olive Garden which now allows him to commune with one of his dead relatives. I have already anticipated the hipster argument — “What if Michael is really dead, and thus he must resolve his guilt both re: his wife and his son, before moving on to the afterlife?” —and I say bring it. Don’t watch Awake because you want to solve the mystery box puzzle. This is not a J.J. Abrams project.
Instead, watch Awake because Jason Isaacs gives a fantastic performance. He is believable as not only a grieving father and a grieving widow, but also as a man struggling to be both at the same time. His storylines with his wife and son are refreshingly restrained (he is just enough of crap father, without actually being one; he is just enough of a crap husband also without actually being one). Should NBC not actually suck, I’m looking forward to things such as a flashback to the first time Michael encounters one of his dream realities and the inevitable “a cop we know is dirty (but only in one universe!)” plot. The pilot plays around with details that seem to bleed through from red to green (no spoilers, but this bleed through seems to solve at least one case in the episode). A further exploration of this would be more than a little fun. Are we going to stick with Michael’s own potential psychosis, or will the story flesh it out further and introduce some sort of omniscient third party? Who knows. Will Green Universe Michael make out with his son’s tennis coach? WHO KNOWS.
This is a bold experiment for NBC. Their first mid-season replacement, Smash, hasn’t been the wildly, dramatically successful break-out hit they wanted it to be. There’s no singing and dancing in Awake (not yet, at least) but I like to think that this show has moxie. Then again, NBC has a terrible track record (Life) of being unable to successfully market (Friday Night Lights) its actual quality dramas.
In conclusion, obviously the answer is that EVERYONE is dead, right?!
This guest post is by blogger & Tumblr #TV Editor Tahlia Hein.
Sidenote: TV Hangover completely agrees and is officially pleading for everyone to watch Awake. Yes, NBC has given it the death slot and yes, it’s a little out of place after their comedy block but! It’s intriguing, it’s clever — both in the writing and cinematography — and it’s a great example of the originality that television is lacking. Also, our hearts can’t take another Lone Star situation.