TV Review: Awake
NBC’s in pretty rough shape. The former top network’s fallen to last place on network TV, and they can’t seem to stem the tide. Recent premiere Smash hasn’t turned out to be “The Show That Saves NBC” the way they’d hoped (One sentence review of Smash: Better than Glee because it’s less cloying, but musical shows just aren’t my thing). The next attempt at The Show That Saves NBC is Awake, a crime procedural with a twist. While I think that heavily pushing one show and being ax-happy with others speaks more to NBC’s continued lack of business savvy, that’s not the point.
The point is that Awake is fantastic.
Awakefollows Detective Michael Britten (Jason Issacs) following a car accident with his wife and son. Every time Britten goes to sleep, he switches between a universe in which his wife is alive but his son has died, and his son is alive but his wife was killed in the accident. In each universe, Britten has a therapist in each universe (B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones, respectively) who believes Britten is dreaming his opposite life. Britten himself isn’t so sure, and is somewhat content to live this double life.
Most of the cast does a nice job, but this is Issacs’ show. His passion and intensity sells a comparatively odd premise completely. The show wisely avoids a “the day after” approach, picking up an undetermined amount of time later as Britten returns to work. He’s comfortable with the way his world works, taking advantage of an impossible opportunity. Still, he shows subtle signs of paranoia and instability, especially in some of the therapy scenes. As not only the lead, but the linchpin of the series, Issacs shines.
It’s also pretty easy to follow, despite the parallel worlds. Most scenes place Britten with world-specific characters (his wife/son, either therapist, or one of two partners) and the scenes are color corrected, with warmer colors when he’s with his wife and cooler ones with his son. Unfortunately, this hews a little close to the orange & teal paradigm blockbuster movies have run into the ground, but here it’s deployed in an intentional and useful way. The minimalist score also enhances the effect.
Because I know how the internet works, I’m sure at this very moment there are dozens of discussions going on at this very minute about what minute details indicate which world is “real” or “what’s really going on.” I don’t really want anything to do with that, at least not right now. To me, Awake isn’t a show about a mystery. It’s a show about a man with a double life, a man placed in a unique position that’s both comforting and painful, and how someone could deal with that.
Like the therapists and Britten himself, I don’t know how long this can last. The show’s going to need to dole out developments slowly in order to keep a balance, but not drag. Creator Kyle Killen’s last outing on FOX,Lone Star, was cancelled after two episodes, and while I don’t think NBC’s going to be in that bad a position, this kind of show’s going to need some investment. But the first episode has me hooked, and I’ll be coming back for the foreseeable future.
Awake airs on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.
RATING: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)