The pilot for NBC’s new drama “Awake” is phenomenal. The show does what most pilot episodes are incapable of: Giving you much more than what is in the trailer. Most new shows spend their pilot giving you an extended version of their trailer, but “Awake” goes through most of that footage in the first 10 minutes.
We see Michael Britten (Jason Issacs) get into a car accident with his wife and son, and it’s revealed that he is living in two realities. In one his son died, while in the other, his wife was the victim. Michael doesn’t know which is real and has no desire for either reality to disappear, but that was just the first 10 minutes.
Michael is also a homicide detective. In each world he has a different partner and a different case. Details from each case seem to slip into the other. The address 611 Waverly Place is important in the killing of a taxi driver while the parking spot 611 in Waverly Parking Garage is important in his kidnapping case.
Details like that go back and forth, which should indicate which reality is a dream, but don’t.
One detail will appear in the reality with his son and then appear in the reality with his wife. Meanwhile, another detail will appear in his wife’s reality and then slip into his son’s reality. Viewers don’t know which reality is real and neither does Michael.
If your head is spinning already, don’t worry too much. The show makes it really easy to identify which reality Michael is in, and understanding the premise is much easier to watch than read. The show flows really well so that it is fast paced but is still easy for viewers to grasp.
They also use colors to help viewers remember which reality they’re in. In the reality with his wife, Michael has a red rubber band and all of the scenes are shot in warmer, yellow tones. When he is awake with his son, Michael’s rubber band is green and the shots are in cooler, blue tones. The show blends the elements of a procedural drama and a scifi thriller quite well. I dislike most procedural cop shows because they’re too plot-driven and follow the same formula every week. “Awake” might turn out to be slightly formulaic, but it’s not a formula that any other television show has right now.
The show is also very character driven. It’s more about how this situation is affecting Michael and those around him rather than figuring out why it’s happening (though it is a subject that has to be addressed eventually). It shows very different ways of how his wife and son cope with loss.
The weakness of character driven shows is often casting. If the cast can’t do the material justice, the show will quickly fall to pieces.
Luckily, “Awake” is incredibly well cast. Issacs has left Harry Potter’s evil Lucius Malfoy completely behind for the sympathetic, conflicted Michael. For some reason, the casting of kids in adult dramas often doesn’t go well, but again, “Awake” doesn’t have this problem with Dylan Minnette playing Michael’s son, Rex.
Wilmer Valderrama (“That 70’s Show”) was a surprising choice for the role of Michael’s partner, rookie detective Efrem Vega, but the comedian plays the dramatic role well.
The ratings for the pilot episode were decent, but not great. This could be because the show airs after NBC’s comedy lineup on Thursdays at 10 pm. It doesn’t exactly fit in with shows like “The Office” or “Up All Night,” but there aren’t really any similar shows on NBC right now that would be a good match.
The only thing that I can’t tell is how exactly this show will go on for years. Michael says he doesn’t want to figure out which reality is real, but that’s going to have to change sooner or later.
While a show with two overlapping crimes a week is watchable, it will get old fast if no progress is made with Michael. However the previews for coming episodes make it seem like this won’t be a problem. It seems as if they’ll be digging right into the show’s mythology and why Michael is living in two realities.
I’m not sure what direction the show is going in, but I’m definitely excited to continue watching and find out.
PHOTO COURTESY of fanpop.com