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.