By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
Michael Britten is an L.A. cop who suffers a traumatic incident, on the new NBC show, “Awake.”
After a dramatic car accident, Michael begins living two realities. In one, his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), survives while his teenage son does not. When he closes his eyes, his son, Rex (Dylan Minnette), is alive. To make things more complicated, he is in therapy with two separate shrinks, the always terrific Emmy-winner Cherry Jones and “Law and Order: SVU” star B.D. Wong.
He also has two different partners and works two different cases that inevitably weave together. His shrinks each tell him that the other reality is simply a coping mechanism to deal with his pain.
It’s a fascinating and dizzying concept that’s completely unique. Alternate realities, devastating grief and survivors guilt are daring and heady subjects to deal with on network TV.
Michael isn’t able to tell the difference between dream and reality, but he makes it clear that he doesn’t really care. He’s willing to continue existing in both because that means he gets to keep seeing his loved ones. It’s an odd reaction and deflects some of the feelings the audience might otherwise develop for his wife, son, partners or therapists. It’s an unusual problem for a show. If your lead doesn’t care, why should we?
As fascinating as the pilot was, I can’t help but wonder about where it’s going to go from here. It’s a concept that can easily become muddled and too self-aware. When a show knows it’s clever, that’s usually its downfall.
Where “Awake” succeeds is in its wonderful casting choice of British actor Jason Isaacs. Probably best known for his work in the “Harry Potter” films, Isaacs is reliable and empathetic. He infuses a lot of heart into a show that needs it. He gives “Awake” that little extra push that it needs in slower moments.
“Awake” isn’t a bad show. In fact, the pilot has moments that really shine. It’s bold and inventive, something that TV—especially NBC—really needs. There’s just something hectic about it that doesn’t quite work. A show can’t simply rely on an interesting premise and hope to survive.
I think the biggest problem with “Awake” is it just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a character study? Does it want to examine grief? Does it want to be a police procedural? Right now, it looks like they want to mush everything together and hope for the best. The writers need to sift through it and find what works best for the show.
For now, I think “Awake” can survive on its unique and energizing story. The question now is can “Awake” maintain momentum or will it stumble?