Jan 31, 2013

[TV] Awake: Season 1

Every now and then my partner Tobie and I come across a show that just blows us away. Maybe it's because of how powerful the performances are. Maybe the dialog is just witty beyond belief. Or other times the core premise of the show is just so thought-provoking, that we can't help but invest time in the production.

Awake was certainly one of those shows that appeared to be smarter than most. The whole dual-reality story that defined the series really seemed interesting to us plus it had a lot of great potential for some interesting storytelling.

But as is often the case, the show was not renewed for a second season, and thus watching the series had an added degree of feeling even more somber since we knew it would quickly come to an end. It took us a while before we got around to truly sitting down and finishing the rest of the episodes. But it was certainly still worth the journey.

Synopsis: Awake is a television drama series created by Kyle Killen and aired on NBC. The show ran for 13 episodes and was not renewed for a second season. The series cancellation was announced after the 11th episode of the series aired.

At the heart of the series is LA Police Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs). He gets into a vehicular accident together with his wife and son and eventually awakens to find himself balancing time between two different realities every time he goes to sleep. In one world, his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) survived the crash but in the other, his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) was the additional survivor.

The show follows him as he returns to work and attempts to solve different cases in each of the realities that end up being somehow connected. And this goes beyond using the same criminals or something like that but more along the lines of subtle clues that seem interrelated between the worlds. His investigations are intercut with various interviews with his respective therapists, who are helping him process his unique situation and try to convince him that their reality is the real one.

There is no question that the rather cerebral nature of the show was probably a barrier to entry for many viewers. Apart from the somewhat complex premise, there's the fact that the story dealt with two different yet essentially equivalent realities where your only clue to which is which being the overall tint of the scenes. The reality where his wife survives has warmer hues while his son lives in the one with colder, bluer shades tinting everything. It seems clear enough, but admittedly in the heat of the action, you may get lost.

While I was totally in favor of the police procedural aspect of the show, I can recognize the major challenge that the show faced when they opted to push certain core mysteries to the tail end of the season. The big question of why Michael was experiencing two different realities and the details of the initial accident are key questions that we could have been looking at slowly over time instead of introducing a lot of them two-thirds of the way into the run. Thus the last few episodes just had so much going on all at once when it might have been feasible to space some of these elements out, thus building up to the conclusion.

One of the clearest signs of the complexity of the central conflict and yet also one of the best parts of this show in my opinion were Michael's two therapists. In many ways, it was almost as if  Dr. Lee (BD Wong) and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) were essentially in a small war against one another as they tried to guide Michael to the obviously true conclusion - that their reality was the right one that he needed to learn to embrace. And hearing their various arguments and analyses of the various events in the show episode after episode certainly made for some interesting discussions. So yes, major, major credit to the two actors involved and how much they contributed to the clever nature of this show.

It was nice to see Steve Harris in action again - I admit that I thoroughly enjoyed his past work on shows like The Practice, even though it seems that he's a tad typecast as the stern legal type, may it be a lawyer or a detective. Wilmer Valderrama was surprisingly effective as Detective Vega, which does demonstrate how his range as an actor is far more than just being the weird kid on That 70's Show or something.

In the end, I think the show may have been a tad too lofty for network television. If we're lucky we may see the show revived on some alternate medium whether supported by a provider like DIRECTV or picked up by the likes of Netflix or Amazon. It's rather unlikely at this point despite the critical acclaim of the show, but a geek can certainly dream.

Awake will always hold a special place in my geeky thoughts given how well thought-out the show was. So it gets 4 surprising connections between the two realities out of a possible 5.

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