Warning: This trailer gives pretty much everything away from the first episode – though, the show is so good, it might not matter. Awake premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on NBC.
Awake tells the story of Michael Britten, a man who, after getting into a horrific car accident with his family, creates two realities: one in which his son survived the accident, and one in which his wife did. The catch? He cannot determine which one is real and which one is a dream, assuming those are the only two options.
As the pilot progresses, we discover that this is not the only distinction between the two realities. A detective, he is forced to see a psychiatrist in each version of his life. Each has their own distinct personality and method of treatment, but both insist their reality is the real one. Britten also works with different partners in each reality. In one reality, Britten is paired with Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), a rookie detective, only given the promotion to keep an eye on Britten, while in the other, Bird Freeman (Steve Harris) continues as Britten’s long-time partner.
Though it is only the first episode, we already begin to see signs of the wear and tear on Britten’s psyche. Details of the cases he is working in either reality begin to bleed together. In a particularly frantic moment when Britten momentarily cannot find his wife, he cuts his hand in an attempt to wake up. Though he wears colored bands on his wrist – green for his son, red for his wife – to keep the realities straight, we can only suspect that the struggle to keep them straight will only get harder. Still, Britten is committed to holding onto both worlds.
The pilot, written by Kyle Killen (Lone Star) and directed by David Slade (Eclipse), is beautifully shot and constructed. I can only hope this level of quality is maintained as the program progresses. The factor that really ties it together, however, is the performance from English actor Jason Isaacs. Isaacs, best known for his role as the dastardly Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, has made quite a career as the consummate villain. Here, sporting a flawless American accent (or at least my admittedly forgiving ear thought so), he turns in an affecting performance as a broken-yet-determined man. I cannot wait to see the chances he gets to further stretch his acting muscles as the demands of his condition start to take a real toll.
I will admit a certain degree of apprehension at the potential for longevity in the concept. The structure reminds me a lot of British serial Life on Mars (later adapted into an American version that, I admit, I have not seen), which depicted a police detective who after being hit by a car woke up in the 1970s. He could not determine if he was in a coma and dreaming the entire thing up, if he had actually traveled through time, or if he had always been in the 1970s and was just crazy. Chaos ensued, but the entire series lasted only 16 episodes. That structure, much like this one, does not leave a huge amount of room for development. Still, the creative minds behind the project seem trustworthy (Awake’s showrunner is Howard Gordon, writer of 24 and Homeland), and I would follow Jason Isaacs just about anywhere (the supporting cast is not too shabby, either). Verdict: I’m wide awake.
If you don’t want to wait until tonight to watch it, check out the first episode on Hulu: