Monday, March 5, 2012

REVIEW: Awake

NBC - Thursday 10/9c

Jason Isaacs stars as Michael Britten, a man involved in a mysterious car accident in which has son has been killed and he and his wife survived.  He has a hotshot rookie partner (Wilmer Valderrama) and is seeing a psychiatrist (B.D. Wong) to help him cope with the loss of his son.

Jason Isaacs stars as Michael Britten, a man involved in a mysterious car accident in which his wife has been killed and he and his son survived.  He has an aging veteran partner (Steve Harris) and is seeing a psychiatrist (Cherry Jones) to help him cope with the loss of his wife.

Where the hook for Awake lies is that both scenarios are true.  Michael Britten travels back and forth between the two realities, one in which his son is alive, and one in which his wife is alive.  His life is completely changed in both, depending on which reality he is in.  But he is conscious of each world, which makes for some interesting crossover and emotional possibilities.

1.  Does it entertain me?
"Awake" is fast faced and quick, and the pilot does not allow time to breathe.  This works both in its favor and against it, since the concept is ambitious and confusing, but it's also got a lot of ground rules to lay down.  But it doesn't let anything sink in, and it doesn't let you become familiar with any of the characters.  If anything, the pilot could have benefited from a 2 hour premiere.

But if the worst thing I have to say about a pilot is that it is confusing, then that's a good thing.  Remember, it is the show that is being reviewed, not the episode.  All the pilot gives is an indication of what is to come.

And what is to come from the look of things is a very promising show.  There are mysteries galore and questions to be answered.  The writing is very good and tight, and the acting is excellent.  Jason Isaacs, Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong are all very accomplished have a large resume.  They will, undoubtedly, get the bulk of the screen time as the show focuses on Michael's grasp of reality and the people trying to help him discover it.

Aside from the mysteries, though, there is the "crime of the week" aspect of the show, and they nice twist that one reality helps Michael with the other.  There are crossovers (some of which make sense) are there to help Michael and whatever partner he has solve the crime.  It's an interesting idea with a great number of possibilities if executed correctly.

What is exciting about "Awake" is that there are possibilities.  The show can go a number of ways, and the ambition is there to make it happen.  Unlike many of the new shows, there is a certain gravitas involved with this show as well (see below).

2.  Is it realistic?
We don't know what's going on.  The writers want us to know that we don't know what's going on, too, and that the mysteries of the show will remain that way for some time.  Michael wears different colored rubber bands based on the reality he is in, and the world around him changes appropriately.

But in the world which has been created, everything is done for a reason, and even though those reasons are not clear, there are rules in play here.  And for that, I'm willing to stick around to see what's going on.

3.  Are immoral actions defended?
This is where the show could really get exciting as mentioned above.  Not for the immoral actions, but for what constitutes an immoral action.  Obviously both realities cannot be real, because that is not how our universe works.  So one has to be real, and one has to be a dream or a figment of Michael's imagination.

So whatever he does in the real world continues to have the same moral gravity as before and doesn't change.  Makes sense.  But now, what do you do about the dream world?  Is Michael morally culpable for his actions in that world?  And what happens if he believes both worlds to be simultaneously real and a dream?  In other words, they are both reality and yet both a dream.

Moral responsibility will remain the same.  He is responsible for living a moral life in both worlds, really, just in case.

Then there's the question of the soul, of prayers, of living and dying.

It's just nice to see a show with more at stake than just whodunnit.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
The nice thing about living in two worlds with your son and your wife is that you never have to deal with the grieving process, because you know you will see one of them again shortly.  Unforuntately, it's hard for the person you are with, who is wondering why you are never crying, or why you talk about seeing your dead son that night.

There was no sex in the pilot, no infidelity, and nothing that would indicate that family will not survive or tough it all out.
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"Awake" is an ambitious new show that follows the split life of Michael Britten, a man who leads two lives, literally.  It is well made and, if handled properly, could become the best new show of the year.  It asks questions and raises possibilities that other shows just don't do.  If it can solve its packing problem, which may just be a problem of the pilot, then there is a lot here to stick around for.

Grade: A-

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