Stay alert for NBC's sharp new 'Awake'

TV review
March 1, 2012 12:01 am
  • In the new series "Awake," Jason Isaacs, center, stars as a police detective living out what seems to be two realities: one in which his son, portrayed by Dylan Minnette, has died and the other, in which his wife, played by Laura Allen, has died.
    In the new series "Awake," Jason Isaacs, center, stars as a police detective living out what seems to be two realities: one in which his son, portrayed by Dylan Minnette, has died and the other, in which his wife, played by Laura Allen, has died.
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NBC's "Awake" (10 tonight, WPXI) begins with a simple premise: After the family car he's driving tumbles over a cliff, Los Angeles police Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs, "Brotherhood") wakes up to discover his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen, "Terries"), has died but his son, Rex (Dylan Minnette), survived the accident. When Britten goes to sleep and wakes up again, he's in an alternate reality where his wife is alive and his son is dead.

Which is real? Is one scenario a dream? Britten ultimately decides it doesn't matter; he won't give up on either, choosing to live part time in each world to keep his loved ones alive.

'Awake'

When: 10 tonight, NBC.

Awash in grief in its first few episodes, "Awake" offers a fascinating look at competing realities that makes it one of the 2011-12 TV season's most ambitious dramas. It's the kind of show viewers must pay attention to -- smart TV that's worth watching, bringing to mind another Is-it-a-dream-or-real? series, "Life on Mars."

But can "Awake" survive on NBC? That might be a dream scenario itself.

"Awake" is executive produced by Howard Gordon ("Homeland," "24") and was created by Kyle Killen, the talented writer responsible for Fox's two-and-done 2010 flop "Lone Star." Mr. Killen, who wrote the first two "Awake" episodes, recently tweeted, "Only takes three aired episodes to crush our old record, folks!"

While the "Awake" premise is simple, the execution can sometimes be more convoluted. It takes several episodes before the show's writers find a way of bringing clarity to these two realities and which universe viewers are seeing Britten in at any one time (or maybe it just took me that long to get a better handle on it).

The show quickly announces it won't just be a procedural with Britten tracking two criminal cases in two different universes with two different partners (Steve Harris from "The Practice" in one and Wilmer Valderrama from "That '70s Show" in the other). Clues from each universe inform the case in the other. "Awake" introduces a conspiracy overlay in episode two. It comes off as a little tacked on and is ignored entirely in episode three before a character -- other than Britten's two shrinks -- learns of his two-reality state in episode four.


First Published 2012-03-01 00:27:04

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