awake_nbc1[1]

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Awake is the sort of series about which I could probably spend way more time talking than I really want to, so I will endeavor to confine this to essentials. Ultimately, my recommendation is going to be as follows: watch the pilot (currently available on Netflix’s streaming service) and decide for yourself. For my part, I won’t mince words here: Awake was a brilliant, I think.

First, brilliant for its high concept premise. There’s a bit of The Twilight Zone at the heart of a series like Awake, which poses to the viewer the scenario that a man could live full lives in two distinct worlds, both resulting from a traumatic precursor event in which in one world, his wife survived a car accident that took the life of his son, and in another, the son survived and his wife did not. The principle character goes to sleep in one world and, like clockwork, wakes up in the other, with both seeming thoroughly real to him.

That’s just a good, old-fashioned mindfuck, if you’ll pardon the expression. And Awake provides ample evidence to support whichever view you may adopt with regards to which is the reality and which is the dream. The way with which the writers toy with the viewer is very smart, trotting out clues that would seem to definitively lead to one conclusion or the other, only to later pull the rug out, placing doubt in our minds by suggesting that the previous clue might have merely been a trick of the protagonist’s subconscious intellect.

Look, I’m not going to pretend that this is flawless or without its problems. As the series draws on, it becomes increasingly improbable that any other explanation exists than that both worlds are real (or both dreams!). Additionally, somewhere in the middle, the writers lost the thread of the personal quest a bit before quickly catching it again, noticeably neglecting the psychological tension that results from attempting to reconcile two realities, and which rivets the viewer when the show is on top of its game. But minor gripes notwithstanding, Awake is, regardless, a lot of fun.

And while couching this brainy premise within the trappings of a police procedural may seem a little too on-the-nose (the main character is a detective, and the thrust of the series is, eventually, finding the truth), I found that the procedural elements actually worked pretty well, particularly when the writers remembered to draw the zig-zag line of logic between the two realities, while also weaving it through the protagonist’s personal story.

Second, brilliant for writing a main character that makes so much damn sense. For Michael Britten, his situation is both a blessing and a curse, and over the course of the 13 episodes of Awake, you’ll come to fully appreciate that. There’s a particularly amazing episode in the second half of the series in which Britten finds himself “stuck” in one of the realities, unable to cross back over to the other, and it totally unravels him. It’s powerful drama, and a perfect segue to the last point I intend to make.

Awake - Jason IsaacsThird, brilliant because of the performance of Jason Isaacs, who just plain inhabited this protagonist. Never less than completely believable and totally committed, and I think some of his best work over the course of Awake is to be found in the moments in which he is simply trying to hold onto what he can. For example, the look somehow behind his eyes when the tug of some thread of logic attempts to lead him away from one reality–which is clearly something that Britten can never allow to happen, as his sanity hinges upon remaining fully invested in both existences.

I don’t know…I was going to go into a tangent here about how I watched this series just after watching the pilot episode of The Following, and what a huge turd The Following was with its ridiculous characters and cliches at every turn, but I guess I won’t bother. Awake is a series strong enough to stand on its own without comparison to anything else on television. Because it wasn’t, really, like anything else on television. Certainly not prime time, network television. That’s not a value judgment–it’s just a fact. For better or for worse.

It is entirely unsurprising that it didn’t last, and even if one were to love it, one might still question where the premise really had to go over the course of a longer run, but as a blip on the pop culture radar, Awake was a noble attempt and well worth watching.