Last week I said I was going to talk about Awake but the events on last week’s American Idol demanded some attention. But American Idol wasn’t nearly as interesting this week, despite the apparent shock of Colton Dixion leaving, though it felt like the only surprise of the show was that Elise Testone managed to hang on for one more week. So it’s time to get back to regularly scheduled blogging with Awake.
NBC’s mid-season replacement, Awake, revolves around the aftermath of a car crash involving Michael Britton, played by Jason Isaacs; his wife, Hannah, played by Laura Allen and his son, Rex, played by Dylan Minnette. Britton has recently returned to his job as a police detective and the show follows the general structure of a police procedural show where a crime is committed and a cop and his partner search for clues. Unfortunately for Britton, he also has to deal with psychiatrists and a boss who is keeping a very close eye on his activities. And worst of all he has to deal with the loss of both his wife and son…while also experiencing separate realities where each one is alive.
This is because one member of the family died in the car crash, either his wife or son, but when Britton lays his head to sleep he dreams of a world where the other is alive. The show itself is directed in such a way that it doesn’t explicitly present either world as real or a dream but instead the viewer is placed in the exact same situation as Britton, who continually struggles with the same problem. But this also possibly makes him difficult to relate to, because Britton doesn’t really care which the dream is. He’d be happy to believe that both were real in his mind.
In fact, it creates a sort of personal Schrodinger’s Cat experiment for Britton. Until he opens the box and observes what is in side he will never know what is real and what isn’t real. And, naturally, that’s what the viewers want too because if a show sets up the possibility that something may not be what it seems then the audience are going to want that possibility answered. Otherwise it’ll be left hanging and viewers might feel led on, like someone attached a fifty pound note to a fishing line and every time you get close to the money it’s reeled out of your reach. But this is only the first season and because it is a mid-season replacement it only gets a half season as well, so there’s still plenty of room for the question to be answered.
Well, it would have if it weren’t in danger of being cancelled. It’s a real pity because this show is better than your average police procedural. The crimes themselves aren’t the most dramatic or thrilling crimes to ever be shown on television but the show makes effective use of the dual realities to set up separate crimes that always end up converging and generally clues from both sides will give Britton the eureka moment to figure it all out. I feel like that gives it the edge over most procedural shows and there’s so many of them about these days so I feel like a show like Awake that tries to be different and do the same style with new creativity should be rewarded. The ratings aren’t showing that reward. From the premiere’s 6.24 million viewers the audience has dropped to a dismal 2.80 million in eight episodes.
I’m not sure what the cause is though. It’s not the acting because you have some really talented cast members like Jason Isaacs, Wilmer Valderrama and Primetime Emmy award winning Cherry Jones. It can’t be the plot because the show feels like it certainly struck a balance between reality and the dream and teasing us by which is real and which isn’t. There are valid points on each side for each universe but two of the most interesting points are the conspiracy in one reality and the duality of characters. In the second episode, we see Britton’s captain talking with one of her superiors over Britton’s actions after the crash, implying that they know something of what happened to him and why he can experience another life in a dream, and later in the seventh episode he investigates an abandoned warehouse after a mysterious voice urges him to do so over a fast food drive thru intercom. The superiors are worried by this investigation and are even prepared to take care of him because of it but he takes care of it himself by choosing to move, with his wife, to Oregon. Obviously, the presence of a strange voice would suggest that world was possibly the dream. But then you have Rex’s baby sitter appear in episode four. She exists in both worlds; in one as a druggy murder accomplice and in the other she was doing alright for herself and attending yacht parties. This is particular significant because the split came before the car crash, when her sister drowned at a young age.
The different Kates in the different worlds represents the divide that Britton lives with. Just as there are two versions of her there now seem to be two versions of him, each with separate families, professional partners and soon they will even live in separate towns. And who’s to say that, in time, if the show isn’t cancelled, they might even have separate love interests? This is why I think that this show has so much potential for the future and so much that can still develop through the story. If there’s one thing holding it back then maybe it’s just that the show goes too deep by drawing on oneironlogy and psychology. In that respect, it’s rather similar to the use of physics and theoretical concepts in FlashForward but with much better acting and writing. It’s possible that this is bogging down the show and making it difficult to get to grips with.
However, I really would urge you to give the show a chance. Watch a few episodes and pretty soon you’ll be sitting up until three in the morning trying to figure out which reality is real. For the record, the creator has said that it isn’t all a dream in response to some fan’s ideas that he might take a third option and make the whole thing some dying dream for Britton from the car crash. It’s either one or the other. That’s intriguing, right? Because it’s not just a twist for the sake of it. This is a guy who isn’t just into drama but also wants to evoke something in your heart and your mind. So I urge you, just give it a chance. For nothing else, watch it for Jason Isaacs.