W.D. Prescott’s Screen Burn™ – Is NBC’s New Television Show AWAKE Good Enough To Last?

Awake premiered this past Thursday. The show was getting a lot of publicity before hand– though, if you paid attention, you saw the PR die down a bit after the publicity bloated Smash started flopping weekly. I tend to ignore pre-premiere publicity because it is usually wrong, especially with NBC shows. But in this case, I think the good reviews were spot on.

Brief rundown: Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is involved in a car accident along with his wife, Hannah (the gorgeous Laura Allen), and son, Rex (Dylan Minnette). This accident causes him to now exist in two realities: One where his wife died and one where his son did. He goes to psychiatrist in both, though each one is different. Dr. John Lee (B.D. Wong) in “WifeWorld” and Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones) in “SonWorld” attempt to make sense of what is going on– trying to help Michael accept one as real and the other as a dream. But what man would want to accept either outcome when he can push the boundaries of sanity and have his family?

Then a funny thing happens as Michael works on the two completely different cases with two very different partners: Isaiah Freeman (Steve Harris) in “SonWorld” and Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama) in “WifeWorld”. Clues from both cases are connected. They aren’t the same clues, but are repurposed to fit the case in each world; as dreams tend to do to things that happen to us during the day. Like you have Pizza Hut for dinner, and then dream Pizza the Hutt is throwing you into the Sarlacc.

The therapists think that the split realities and clue crossovers may be Michael’s way of coming to grips with what happened the night of the accident– which he can’t remember. As they continue to debate, he begins to see all this as tools to becoming a better detective.

Okay, not so brief a summary, but I wanted to make sure not to confuse anyone.

In that sense, the complex set-up is part of what makes Awake a great story for TV. You couldn’t do this premise justice within the time constraints of a two-hour movie… And a book would leave you utterly confused unless written with an extremely deft hand.

The different visual aspects used in the show are also key. Awake differentiates the two realities by using colors that are the favorite colors of the person that survived: Red for Hannah, Green for Rex. These filters set the atmosphere for each reality. Things seem to be going better in “WifeWorld”, Michael seems happier, and life seems to be moving on. “SonWorld” is a little more depressed, Michael seems to be trying to figure out how to handle Rex– who he never had a strong bond with before the accident, and life seems stunted. In the end, both realities seem like they could be the real one… And maybe they are.

My only concern with this show is where the producers and writers will go after this episode. A lot of the TV series I’ve gotten into in the last two years have a great premise, and have a decent to good premiere, but I always keep asking, “How will they keep this up for another season, let alone another five?”

Here’s the thing: Awake is a mix of police procedural and psychological sci-fi. I like that, but NBC’s track record proves they don’t. Also, those two genres are going to be hard to balance in each episode. If they go more towards the procedural in each show, I doubt if a majority of the initial audience will stick with it. Just look at Prime Suspect, Law & Order: LA, The Firm, and even Harry’s Law.

If they stay too much at the psychological sci-fi end, the potential problems become two-fold: 1) Speculative genre shows are not doing well this season on the major networks. Fringe, Alcatraz and The River are riding the renewal/cancellation edge along with A Gifted Man and Unforgettable– which are the closest comparisons to Awake. 2) While this is a great genre for building stand out characters, it is also one where you can’t hold back too much information from viewers for too long. So, again, how will this show last into a second season?

I guess this is my only reservation with the show after watching it: I don’t know where it is going. I’m guessing that the idea Dr. Evans suggests, that the creation of both worlds is Michael’s way of remembering and dealing with the night of the accident, is the series’ plot arc. But similar to Ringer on the CW Network, I can’t see this series going for more than a season without unrealistic moments being injected to slow the discovery of the climax of an arc. That alone will piss viewers off.

The pilot was a good setup episode and tomorrow night’s ep will really set the pace for the season. Awake has a lot of promise, good actors, and is well written. It is also not in a hotly contested time slot, airing on Thursdays, 10 pm EST. So it has a chance, if NBC allows the audience to build and if the balance of the two genres in upcoming episodes are as tight as the pilot’s.

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39 Responses to W.D. Prescott’s Screen Burn™ – Is NBC’s New Television Show AWAKE Good Enough To Last?

  1. So I totally have to catch this on hulu now. Great premise because in which reality would you want to stay, if given the choice?

    Thanks, Will!

    • And I think the real interesting thing will be how long he can last going between two worlds. Even in the first episode he has a minor breakdown, so he’s already not able to handle it completely, which just makes it more captivating to watch.

  2. J.Jimenez says:

    I am really looking forward to this show. The premise of this show is really interesting. I think Jason Isaacs is an incredible actor who can do no wrong. I really hope it lasts (even without seeing the first episode).
    I just don’t get how some of these shows are having such a hard time finding and keeping an audience. I mean, really, people would rather watch trashy ’’reality’’ shows than quality scripted television?
    I guess the networks don’t give shows time to gain an audience. I’ve been worried about Fringe being canceled for the last couple seasons. Fox already pissed me off when they canceled my favorite new show of 2011 The Chicago Code and replaced it with Terra Nova which they canceled that same year. How many ’family guy’ like shows can you have on 1 network?

    • kurumais says:

      trrea nova was big shiny pretty ad really really dull show that didnt even get attention from the geek and fan boy sites i visit

    • That is why I think the Thursday slot + the balance of the two genres are going to be the key factors for this show. There is nothing on Thursdays at 10 right now except The Mentalist. And While there is some cross over in audiences, I think the quirky humor atmosphere of The Mentalist has its base as Awakes more serious atmosphere has theirs. So time slot wise, it should be a winner. Then again, there is nothing on Thursdays at 10, so those that don’t watch anything you have to get them into a viewing pattern to keep the show going.

      The real problem is that cost a lot to do. Any good speculative tinged show is going to need a bigger budget. Now I have no idea how viewership rating is converted into dollar signs for a broadcast company say “This show is making us money, this one isn’t” but what ever it is, sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows will always be on the chopping block fist since the expenses needed are overall going to be higher than most. It’s the problem with Fringe right now. It’s Fox’s Friday night savior, but for what ever reason it cost too much for them.

      If they play to much to one side of the cross-genre theme I have going in Awake, I can easily see NBC axing it because they are going to loose a significant portion of their initial audience and start thinking if it is worth the money. I do hope that when Touched finally starts regular episodes, it will act as a catalyst to get people over to this show if they aren’t watching already.

  3. kurumais says:

    i thought unforgettable was a big hit? in begining of the season it was the highest rated new drama? it took that big a tumble? the ny daily news just said smash’s number have been going up.
    about awake i like the cast, good to see fez back in saddle. initially i thought the show might be too chickie for me but they strick the right balance mostly thanks to jason issacs portrayal. a bit of the tension he facing at work from the department just watching for him to slip up reminds of another really good cop show from nbc life starring damien lewis and sarah shahi . ill be tunning in for the foreseeable future

    fringe has gotten better every season and rating have dropped is that the state of current broadcast tv?

    • Unforgettable is riding the line of Renew/Cancelation on a lot of sites I’ve seen. I admit, I gotta take their word for it because I’m not that deep in the TV biz to have a grasp of ratings to pass judgment. It’s been slipping over the weeks and my parents watch it and they are typical TV watchers that just want good entertainment to watch: nothing fancy, nothing trying too hard, just a good, fun, show to watch. If they start having mixed feelings, that is not a good indicator for a show to me.

      Smash, I think, got a huge boost do to the Battle Rounds starting this week on The Voice. I think, for a show that was slipping as fast as it was, to then suddenly get a boost when the show before it goes into the next stage of a competition, I think it was a tad premature for NBC to Renew it already. If it stays even next week, I will admit I’m wrong and chalk it up to them finally doing something right in the show that weren’t doing previous weeks.

      Fringe it a good case of what I mean by leaning too much to one genre in a cross-genre show. First season, good blend of mystery/sci-fi/horror. You had the mystery of the week with a season long storyline threaded through out each episode and a handful of complete episodes devoted to it. Second season, broadens it out a bit on the dark sci-fi, a few episodes leading into each other. Not a bad thing, because a show has grow and become more complex in nature. Then come Third season where we are not only going between two universes, they have a couple of episodes that, in essence, time travel shows, and they are playing much more into the sci-fi genre than the mystery genre. So I can see people pulling away from that. And while I’m a few weeks behind on it, this season was kind of punch in the gut because everything when learned in the last three seasons no longer exists and they wait a few episodes to even bring Peter back, which should have happened in the first two shows. That was a risky call to make, because while it is interesting story wise, it is not much different for most folks, than what Lucas did to the Star Wars Universe continuity with the Prequels.

      I need to wrap this up, it’s already becoming a column. I thought Awake was going to be chicky too. But that open sequence really set the mood and you realized this it going to be anything but. There is a solid cast here and I really think has a good chance of staying on, because it has everything it could possibly want for a new show.

      • J.Jimenez says:

        I see what you are saying about Fringe. After the first season the story arcs got too convoluted for the casual viewer.
        I guess that’s what was great about X-Files. You could miss episodes without becoming completely lost.

        • Exactly. And that’s why Battlestar Galactica worked on SyFy, but would have been cancelled very fast on any other station. When it come to the Main 5 channels, they are the more casual viewers than cable programing. I would even make the prediction that if Fox moved Fringe to FX, they wouldn’t have cancelation situation for the show.

          • J.Jimenez says:

            I shudder to think about what BSG would have been if on another network. In fact I don’t know how it worked on Sci-fi considering the quality of most of the stuff they put out.
            Right place, right time, right people.

  4. Thanks for this. We, the writers, are trying our best. Hope you keep tuning in.

  5. kurumais says:

    btw does jason issacs sound like dustin hoffman to anybody else?

  6. kurumais says:

    i was looking at the top 25 rated shows according to the neilsens the new ron schnieder “comedy” was 22nd. what hope does quality television have on network tv if this can make it to 22? why would networks and tv writers bother with quality if they can put this out there and hit 22?
    very saddening

    • You might think it sad, but you also have to think that it is the only latino show right now on the major networks, so you have a show that will target a under appreciated demographic that, as politicians will tell, is very large. If there were more shows that latino-centric, I bet you would see numbers fall, especially if they were better shows. And I would not be surprised if that happens based on what going on with ROB. Just look at The Big Bang Theory and the slow build up of Geekchic shows.

  7. J. says:

    I finally got around to watching this last night. I actually found it very interesting.

    There wasn’t anything that I really disliked about it. In fact, it has a lot of good things going for it. I love the differing color palettes used to visually separate the two realities. I’m a sucker for things like that. The sci-fi feel to it is also a huge positive for me. I’ll be adding this to my weekly list of shows to watch.

    I do have to agree with you about being worried about whether the story can keep going for more than 13 episodes. You bringing up Ringer was a good analogy. I am still watching the show but it really seemed to be treading water for a few episodes. I have no idea how they can keep Ringer going for more than one season.

    • J.Jimenez says:

      With all the twists and turns on the Ringer, I’m sure the writers have that figured out. The Ringer is a guilty pleasure of mine, I’ll watch anything with an actor from BTVS. That and Supernatural are the only things I can bear to watch on the CW.

      • J. says:

        Those are the only 2 shows I watch on the CW as well. If Ringer didn’t have SMG as the star I would have stopped watching it a while ago.

    • Supernatural and Ringer are my only CW shows as well, though I did check out The Secret Circle and it wasn’t all that bad, except for one actress I just couldn’t stand and it didn’t make it worth the effort to try and catch it every week. I’ll wait till it gets on Netflix or something.

      I hope J. Jimenez is right about them having Ringer figured out, since even up to this week’s episode they basically added yet another plot line and finally gave us info on the FBI agent that really should have been given to us earlier so he didn’t seem like an extraneous character. I’m not saying that it can’t be tied together, but I’ve seen things like this happen in both movies and tv and it doesn’t always end happily for the viewers and the story.

  8. kurumais says:

    the blood alcohol level on the night of the accident intrigues me it just seemed like a weird random thing

  9. kurumais says:

    episode 2 another good episode. the scene at end on the park bench blew my mind im wondering if she really said what i think i heard her say. ill have to watch it again
    and i think they should make this a limited series i think they should tell their story and solve the mystery job well done and move on.

    • If we were in any other country, I would agree. But how many limited series do you see in America? We like to beat our shows like a dead horse. Just look at the Simpson’s.

      • kurumais says:

        i dont know the way tv is working these past few years has been changing so many shows go on 3 and even 4 hiatuses a year its almost like you get 2 or 3 mini seasons. plus plenty of viewers are watching cable tv shows with shorter seasons. shows like justified, true blood, the game of thrones etc etc . and remember so many folks were disappointed with lost.
        did you watch life with damien lewis and sarah shahi? they set the conspiracy up one way in season 1 then kind of made a huge left turn in season .2 i think that definitely hurt the show. i think it awake could do the same thing if 1 they drag out the mystery too long and 2 revamp the mystery after its been solved.

        • Cable TV and Network TV are very different monsters though. And most of that is money. Cable is thriving, I think, in part, do to people will to watch shows from overseas that are shorter in length. But I would not be surprised if you looked at people that mainly watch the Main 5, especially the much older demographic that grew up without cable, they are still the ones that want a 22-24 episode season for 5-7 years. It is just a generation viewing habit difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if, over time, network starts looking at short seasons, for a while, you’ll have to look at any Main 5 show in that paradigm.

          To be honest, I don’t think I ever heard of Life. When did it premiere?

          And you are right, if they do those things to Awake, they will have cancelled it themselves, and it goes to my hope to keep that tentative balance of the season/series meta-story of the sci-fi mystery and the weekly police procedural mystery.

  10. Insideman says:

    Deadline reports that Awake was down 20% from its’ premiere numbers– after going up against an all new Mentalist.

    http://www.deadline.com/2012/03/ratings-rat-race-awake-drops-20/

    I think that is actually an insignificant drop compared to a lot of shows. If they can hold onto their audience from this week next week… NBC would be foolish to drop the show. Hell, NBC would be foolish to drop the show period– given the creatives involved.

    • kurumais says:

      nbc cancelled life, raines and prime suspect all quality cop shops 2 of them raines and lif have some little similarities with awake. quality isnt saving any shows not anymore

    • And especially with the trailer for this week’s episode, I think the audience will be there. 20% really isn’t that bad for a second episode considering an premiere episode is going to get people that aren’t in the target audience just to see what it’s like, so they are going to be absent for episode 2.

  11. I just wanted to thank everyone that has passed the word around for the column. I was busy this weekend–outside of being sucked into Mass Effect 3–and I came on this morning to make up to see the column was in on of the trending boxes. Woot! So I will do my best to keep up the momentum for you all to enjoy.

    Party On, IMJ Nation!

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