TV Review'Awake': 2 realities, 1 engaging premise
By David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle
- Feb. 28, 2012
After multiple attempts to find something that would stick on Thursdays after its hit-comedy lead-ins, NBC has finally found a winner in "Awake," a new psychological cop show premiering this week in the spot previously occupied by the underrated and badly mishandled "Prime Suspect" and the tepid "The Firm."
"Awake," premiering this week, grabs you, unnerves you, breaks your heart and even makes you work a little. All is not revealed in the first episode, unlike so many lesser shows. Instead, evoking any number of great British TV thrillers, the story and characters take their time, not only giving you a better chance to understand a complicated concept but, more important, making you want to come back week after week.
Created by Kyle Killen ("Lone Star"), "Awake" is about a Los Angeles cop named Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs - he's also one of the producers), who survives a car accident that may or may not have killed his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), and/or their teenage son, Rex (Dylan Minnette).
Yep, you read that correctly. His wife and son may be dead, but they also seem to be alive in two separate realities or dreams - Michael can't quite figure out which, and we can't either. When he wakes up in the morning, he may be in one version of his life in which Hannah is frantically redecorating their house as if she wants to completely change the setting of their lives because Rex is gone. Or Michael may find himself in the alternate version in which he and Rex are trying to feel out their strained relationship against the backdrop of Hannah's death.
Meanwhile, Michael is also solving crimes. He has the same job as an L.A. cop in both realities, but his partner in one world is a rookie named Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), while his sidekick in the other is veteran cop Bird Freeman (Steve Harris).
Eventually, Michael learns to tell the difference between his two lives by the color of a rubber band he wears on his wrist. If Hannah is still around, the rubber band is red. If Rex is still around, it's green. He also begins to feel a kind of gratitude for this particular schizophrenia because it's a way of keeping his family alive. And the more he learns to toggle between the two worlds, the more he uses what he knows and sees in one version of his life to solve crimes in the other.
As complicated as that may seem, the story begins to make sense as Michael visits separate therapists in his two worlds. Dr. John Lee (BD Wong) uses a get-tough-snap-out-of-it approach to therapy in Michael's "red" world, while Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones) adopts a more comforting style.
The performances are perfect at almost every level. Isaacs completely convinces us that he can come to accept his paranormal existences, plural, while still being both the smartest and sanest guy in the room. Allen is loving and vulnerable as his wife, and Minnette is one of those rarities in film and TV, a believable kid.
The show works on many levels, of course, which means there are varying ways for viewers to find their way into its labyrinthine core.
In addition, like other dramas such as "Homeland" and "Person of Interest," its edginess is rooted in the rumbling sense of uncertainty that pervaded our world in the first decade of the new century. The big difference between "Awake" and those other shows, however, is emotional content: It is an important factor in making "Awake" a winner.
Finally, NBC gives you a reason to stay up past 10 p.m. on Thursdays. Good luck trying to get to sleep after the show's over, though.AWAKE
10 p.m. Thurs. on NBC.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...DDGV1NC23B.DTL