Impressive. Imaginative. Complex. Compelling.
Welcome to the world of NBC’s Awake.
This is a world that I have been eagerly anticipating since the May 2011 upfronts. A world that has finally arrived on our television sets. A world that I could not recommend more highly. While I cannot vouch past the premiere episode, the initial outing is a brilliant and soulful exercise in cinematic storytelling. As a stand-alone hour of television, Awake is simply stunning, engaging both the mind and heart.
In this ambitious new drama, detective Michael Britten (Harry Potter’s Jason Isaacs) survives a devastating car crash and becomes an inhabitant of two worlds: one in which his wife (Laura Allen) survives and his son (Dylan Minnette) dies, and another in which the reverse is true. When Britten falls asleep at night, he wakes up in the other world. And like Britten, we are kept in the dark as to which is the true reality, and whether he is asleep or awake. To help Michael Britten, and the viewers, make sense of his dual realities, are two different therapists (Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong), both with the intent of providing guidance while at the same time, disproving the actualities of the other reality. The conversations in the two offices are though-provoking and effectively challenging. The series tempers these dialogue-driven scenes with riveting action, following Britten at work as a detective with two different partners (Wilmer Valderama and Steve Harris), solving separate crimes.
On paper, this daring premise looks complicated enough to make your head spin, but thanks to its smart writing, the hour stays sharply cohesive. The creative team keeps a firm and steady hand on the action, while swiftly, but clearly, cutting between the two realities. The look of the pilot is crisp and clean, and the visual vocabulary provides a subtle distinction between the two realities, a softer green hue for the son’s world and a redder palette for the wife’s world.
The entire acting ensemble is well-cast and well-acted, in particular Jason Isaacs. His nuanced acting lends itself well as the warm emotional core of the series, portaying both a graceful poignancy with his family members and a matured authority while on duty. While Awake sets a sober tone and explores the grief of losing a loved one, the pilot never wallows in despair. Instead, the series wisely resides in a world of hope and possibility, as Britten accepts both realities with an almost quiet gratitude. In the poignant closing of the hour, he tells one of his therapists:
“If you’re telling me that the price of seeing them, feeling them, of having them in my life is my sanity, then it’s a price I will happily pay.”
Following this stellar first episode, the question now becomes, “Where does the series go from here?” I will certainly be along for the journey to find out and I hope audiences will be too. I have faith that series creator Kyle Killen will be able to strike a balance between the duality of character-driven existential emotional elements and action-packed compelling criminal cases. If anything, the breathtaking pilot episode is a dream worth discovering on its own extraordinary merits.