March 6, 2012

Awake blurs the distinction between two worlds in sci-fi thriller

By Sam Dent–

It is kind of a complicated situation: when police-detective Michael Britten and his family are involved in a car accident, something extraordinary—yet horrifying—happens. In one world, Michael’s wife, Hannah, survived but his only son Rex died in the crash. When he falls asleep at the end of the day, he wakes up in a world where Hannah is deceased and Rex is alive. Which existence is real? Are they both real? Is one a dream? These are just some of the questions asked in the first episode of a metaphysical drama wrapped in crime-solving cellophane. If the introductory episode is anything to go on, “Awake” should be praised for its ambition to blend science fiction and crime-thriller material in a smart package. Yet somehow, it is more concerned not with the “why” but rather the “who it involves.”

Jason Isaacs, who some might recognize as Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” movie series, gives a charismatic and commanding performance as Michael Britten. Stricken with the grief of losing his loved ones, he attends therapy sessions in both worlds, only to have his different therapists tell him that the other reality—or dream—might not be real. With solid supporting performances by B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones as therapists who offer differing solutions, these instances highlight key points where the show’s intelligent writing truly shines. Confused and disassociated, Michael returns to his work on the police force in each world only to be set up with different partners. Steve Harris plays Isaiah Freeman in one and Wilmer Valderrama is Efrem Vega in the other, a seasoned veteran and newbie respectively.

In conclusion, there are two worlds that come with their own family member, work partner and therapist. It is a working nightmare for Michael to keep his sanity and loved ones at the same time; he can’t even be sure if they’re really there.

The pilot episode is directed and edited well, juggling the various facets of Michael’s predicament as he searches for answers. Some location elements of the realities begin to cross over, giving him insight in to solving the—once again—different crimes that permeate each reality. If it seems a bit confusing, that’s because it is. We, like Michael, are struggling with his experience and trying to make sense of things. Thanks to the equally good work by Laura Allen and Dylan Minnette as wife and son, we feel for Michael and his predicament. Should he affirm one world and not the other? Is it even possible?

As convoluted as it is, it’s at least nice to see major network television branching out and trying something new. Thanks to fine performances, writing and editing, the premiere at least keeps your interest level steady. Only time will tell if subsequent episodes prove the show a dream come true or if a mass audience is even willing to go down a rabbit hole of the mind.

“Awake” premiered on March 1. The first episode is available for viewing online and—for now—successive episodes will air Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.

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Photo courtesy NBC

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