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Awake: Pilot

"I feel better every time I open my eyes."

Police detective Michael Britten and his wife and teenage son are in a car accident. Afterward, Michael finds himself living alternately in two different worlds: one where his wife survived but not his son, and the other where his son survived and his wife perished. When he goes to bed at night, he is in one reality, and when he wakes up the next morning, he is in the other.

I absolutely love this premise, and I also thought the execution rocked. It's such a fascinating situation. While Michael (Jason Isaacs in a terrific performance – loved him) must cope with the two of them experiencing the loss of each other, he isn't experiencing it himself because he still has them both in his life. How can he ever come to grips with his loss and let the delusion end, if he doesn't know which of his loved ones he has lost?

It's just exceptionally cool that Michael's parallel lives are diverging, too. In reality one, where his wife is still alive, he has a forceful male therapist named Dr. Lee, and a new, young partner at work. In reality two, where his son is still alive, he has a gentle female therapist, Dr. Evan (played by Cherry Jones – love her), and he still has his old partner on the force. In each reality, his wife and his son are changing things, moving on, finding ways to deal with their grief. His wife wants to move out of their home and have another baby. His son has taken up tennis and has developed a relationship with his new coach. Michael uses a large rubber band around his wrist as a reminder of which life he's in at the time. If his two lives continue to diverge, won't the figurative rubber band snap? At one point, Michael thought he was in a world where both of them were gone, and he completely panicked. It seems to me that it's possible that Michael has had a very interesting and complicated psychotic break and did indeed lose them both. What if Michael is in a coma, and isn't awake at all?

So many unanswered questions, which is always a good thing for a new show. Is he missing a day's experience from one world when he's in the other, or repeating each day from two perspectives? How did the accident happen in the first place, and why can't he remember it? Could this possibly be a multiverse situation, like Fringe?

I rather wished at first that we didn't have a cop as the lead in order to provide the usual procedural backdrop, but they added complexity by having his investigations start to cross over as Michael remembered details from one reality that helped him to solve the crime in the other. Could be interesting if they do it well.

The problem with Awake is that it should be airing on HBO, Showtime, AMC or FX. How did it end up on NBC, a network that focuses almost entirely on shows like The Apprentice, The Voice, and The Biggest Loser? Are they making a serious attempt at a new direction, and will they support and promote it as it deserves, or is it an anomaly that will get critical buzz and be quickly canceled?

I'm also wondering if the general coolness and uniqueness will carry through as the series progresses, or if we're going to just get more of the same, because it seems to me that there can only be one answer to what is happening to Michael, and we won't find out what it is until the final episode. I think. Is the premise strong enough to carry the suspense that long? I guess I'll see, because I certainly plan to keep watching.

What did you guys think? Did you like it as much as I did?
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. I had pretty much the same reaction to you, Billie. Great premise, but will they be able to sustain our interest? I found it intriguing that by the end of the episode, his wife seemed to soften to the idea of her son being alive elsewhere. Whether it's just wishful thinking, or the two (three?) worlds are becoming increasingly entwined, I have no idea. But this is the best show première I've seen in ages.... which is some feat, as they're usually rubbish.

  2. I loved this. Definitely the best pilot I've seen in awhile. However, I think it will tank in the ratings. First, because it is on NBC, and second because it isn't quite clear what audience it is catering to: the mythology-loving, "what weirdness is happening here" folks, or the "I love a good character study folks," or even the procedural-loving folks. I'm a person who falls in both of the first two camps, but both are small audiences to begin with, with an even smaller overlap audience, and I can see chunks of the small initial core audience getting frustrated and bailing when there are no answers.

    I guess I'm just concerned that many people who turn in will only be interested in the mystery of what is happening to Michael and why, and I have a feeling they will get frustrated when it starts to become clear that the show runners are more interested not in what is happening to him, but in how he deals with it. I've gotten the impression from interviews that the creators care less about why he's living the two lives, and more about how he copes with his two lives. And I'd say the pilot serves as further evidence of that view, especially given that it starts in a place where this existence is something Michael has already grown accustomed to.

    For my part, I rather loved that the focus was on the character and not the mythology. In the end, I didn't much care what was happening to him either (both a dream? one real, one not? coma? he's dead? whatever.) --- and I couldn't have cared less about the two cases of the week --- I just cared about how it was affecting Michael and how he was dealing with his family's grief and need to move past it. Fascinating, emotionally engaging, and strangely uplifting given the circumstances.

    I have no idea how well the show will hold up from here (or if we'll get to see all 13 episodes), but this was a great pilot, and if it all goes down the tubes, I can at least walk away deeply satisfied with this one hour. Thanks for covering it, Billie!

  3. This episode was quite good. I hope it makes it at least the full half season.

    I didn't like the son when he was Jack's kind of annoying son on the last season of LOST, but he was pretty good in this episode.

    I recorded it on VHS. This is one of those pilots I have to watch a few times to see everything.

  4. The fact this show has 'Cancelled' written all over it is keeping me from giving it a shot. I really don't want to become heavily invested in another show, only for the axe to fall after three episodes. Plus, as others have said, I can't see the premise sustaining a long running series. It would probably work a lot better as a mini-series.

  5. Mark, this show is almost certainly cancelled (the premiere ratings were not good), but the pilot is still pretty satisfying, even as a stand alone hour. Even if I never saw another episode, I wouldn't regret the hour I spent watching the pilot. It might still be worth a try.

  6. I usually hate it when I don't get closure, but I agree with Jess on this one: the beauty of this show is the journey, not the answer, the resolution, or the destination.

    I really enjoyed the episode, despite not planning to enjoy it. (On my to-do list: watch TV I expect to hate. Then, clean toilet.)

  7. i liked it a lot too.

    Jason Isaacs (Draco Malfoy's father!) did a great job. The premise is intriguing. The direction was solid. I was usually pretty clear what reality we were in. Was there a slight color code difference between realities or was it just me?

    My only real complaint is that the previews for the rest of the season gave hints about where it is going and I would rather not know just yet.

    Call me turnipseed

  8. I can't believe I waited so long to watch this pilot. It's really impressive, all the more considering Josie considers it's still holding up.

  9. Wow! What an opening act. So many pilots are so filled with exposition I begin to feel as though I am walking uphill through quicksand. This one handled it beautifully. I love the way the the scenes with the wife are filmed in bright colours and the scenes with the son in more muted colours. It really helped me remember in which reality I was.

    I agree that the "solution" doesn't interest me all that much right now. Just being able to watch Jason Isaacs move between the two worlds makes this a show worth watching.

    Great review, Billie.

  10. Looking good! I can always count on the recommendations of the Agents of Doux.

  11. I have yet to not enjoy a project Jason Isaacs is involved with... he picks the coolest stuff, I admire him. Brotherhood was incredible, ahead of its time and even The OA was right up my alley.
    I'm a little iffy on the wife character, she's already.. not fun.. to watch and I worry she'll start judging/distancing herself from her husband since he doesn't share her desire to put their son behind them.
    And what is it with NBC picking up interesting premises they know their usual audience wouldn't enjoy, lol? I mean I have to assume that the showrunners did shop it around to other appropriate networks first and NBC was the only one to pick them up. In that sense I'm not angry with them.
    I love President Taylor's (Dr Evan) enthusiastic interest in Michael's mind and coping mechanism.


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