Thursday, 1 March 2012


What is it? Give me the set up. Police detective, and loving husband and father, Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is involved in a terrifying car crash. Coming to, he realises he is living in two alternate realities: one in which his wife was killed but his son survived, and one in which his wife got out alive but his son lost his life. Transporting between the two as he sleeps, he doesn't know which reality he's going to be in until he's awake. Other differences in the worlds soon become apparent: he has different partners at work and he is seeing two different shrinks to try and understand what is happening to him, both of whom assure him he is not in a dream. Michael doesn't know what is happening to him, but whilst he gets to be with both his wife and son - albeit in a split time frame - he's reluctant for it to stop.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? NBC's new drama comes from Kyle Killen, who is best known for the very short-lived Lone Star on Fox a couple of years ago, not too dissimilar from the themes explored in Awake of a character living a 'double life'. Clearly a writer with ambition, he's thought up an even more complex storyline here - will he have better luck on another Network? (I must say the premise of Lone Star completely passed me by, whereas Awake sounds completely fascinating - good signs afoot there) Killen also wrote Mel Gibson's unsuccessful comeback last year, The Beaver. There's also a pool of talent helping to develop the show, with previous credits including The Event (oh dear), Flash Forward (oh dear oh dear) and Homeland (oh thank God).

L-R: Cherry Jones (Dr Judith Evans), Wilmer Valderrama (Dt. Efrem Vega), Jason Isaacs (Michael Britten), Steve Harris (Dt. Isaiah "Bird" Freeman), Laura Allen (Hannah Britten), Michaela McManus (Tara), BD Wong (Dr John Lee), Dylan Minnette (Rex Britten, pictured below)

Who's in it? Should I care? Jason Isaacs! (HTJI) Cast in the central role as Michael, a man struggling to control a fractured reality, burgeoning madness and homicide investigations, you need someone with a charismatic vulnerability to pull it off, and Isaacs is the man. As well as a fully fledged film CV (including the excellent Skeletons), he's done a lot of TV work in the US - The West Wing and Brotherhood as well as his native UK - Case Histories being the most recent. He can carry it. Also, anyone noticed a touch of the Jon Hamm about him? hmm? Other familiar faces include his son Dylan Minnette (who will be recognisable as the boy who made friends with the feral incest children in Supernatural and Jack's son on Lost), wife Laura Allen (The 4400 and Dirt), therapists BD Wong (Law & Order, Oz) and Cherry Jones (the President in 24).

Pilot me. As it starts, Michael is sat in a therapist’s office re-living the horrible car accident which leaves his son Rex and wife Hannah unconscious. Then he begins to unravel his now curious and fragmented life: he was told his son had died in the crash and his wife survived, but when he goes to sleep and wakes up again he discovers he is in a world where his son was the one who survived and his wife is dead. He continues to live in this strange phenomena, attending the funerals of both his wife and son in the two different worlds, yet still spending equal amounts of time with both of them and going about his day job as a police detective – with a murder case in one world and the kidnapping of a young girl in another. He also has different partners in each world - Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman and Detective Efrem Vega – and soon finds he is able to use crossover clues from each world to help solve the cases. It’s also revealed he is not recounting these events to one therapist but to two – in each world – who both reassure him that the ‘other’ world is an elaborate coping mechanism he has invented to deal with his loss, and the world he is in now is the true reality. Michael, not wanting to lose his wife or his son, is in a strange suspended state where he cannot grieve for either, and where each world feels completely real.

And is it any good? There has been heaps of praise for Awake but you can tell the critics are also cautious: not just in its ability to become a successful series with more than at least five episodes, but because the sci-fi edge to the concept needs to compel and excite rather than to tie itself into knots or start taking giant leaps of implausibility. Many reviews I have read start out this way, but grow in confidence as the reviewer watches more episodes down the line which fills me with hope, too. Jason Isaacs has got the thumbs up (natch) for his performance, and there’s promise of the show really trying to get to grips with what’s happening to Michael – is it all in his mind, is there a parallel universe, is one of them just a dream? – rather than just keep it as a quirky crime procedural. I’ll only believe this when I see it, mind you - I’ve been tricked far too many times in the last year… The fact that this show went on a production hiatus late last year (many had thought it had been cancelled) could either prove comforting, and they’re taking care over their direction, or a worrying omen. Can it achieve the perfect balance of crime show and psychological drama?

Anything else to intrigue me? The crossing over of clues from one world into another to aid the various cases Michael is working on sounds interesting – he’ll either become Supercop, or everyone else around him will start getting suspicious (more likely – look out for mysterious boss Laura Innes in upcoming episodes). It’s curious we start weeks after the car accident as well – as the background to that and what happened moments after ward could prove vital clues. Plus, shouldn’t the whole concept intrigue you, anyway? How can he keep living like this? What if his wife wants to have another child in one world, or he meets a new love interest in the other? Surely it’s enough to drive anyone insane… but whether he has a choice in any of this is another matter. Secret life, psychological trauma, or parallel universe? Answers to come…'s not like the film Awake is it, with Jessica Alba? DEAR GOD NO.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then? Awake starts tonight at 10pm on NBC in America (watch the first 7 minutes below), so this will be a Friday show - first one of the year for me! Such a change to having everything on a Monday...

1 comment:

  1. i only watched the pilot & i pray they don't try to explain anything. i hope it remains unclear for as long as possible.