Update: Canceled. Sadly, this show did exactly what I hoped it wouldn’t – squander its intriguing premise on less-than-intriguing procedural storylines.
Awake is a promising new show with an intriguing premise: after a terrible car accident, Detective Michael Britten finds himself living two different lives – one in which his wife survives the accident and the other, in which his son survives. In each reality, Michael talks to a therapist who’s convinced that the other reality is a dream. The central tension of the show is the difference between the two therapists’ perspectives on the alternate reality/dream state. One, played by the superb Cherry Jones, sees value in the ongoing dream, convinced it’s his psyche’s way of processing trauma, that it allows Mike to access coping mechanisms from his subconscious to deal with the challenges in his life. The other, a subdued but effective BD Wong, is concerned that the elaborate dream represents a damaging fracture in Michael’s consciousness and believes that he must let go of the fantasy in order to heal. I hope the show will continue to explore layers of consciousness and fluid realities, rather than just settle into a predictable weekly procedural format (provided by the cases Michael investigates in each reality).
The magnetic Jason Isaacs (the Harry Potter films, Brotherhood) anchors the show, capturing Michael’s sense of loss and his determination to hold onto the memory/presence of his wife and son, even at the cost of his sanity. The supporting cast is somewhat weaker. Laura Allen, playing Mike’s wife, isn’t convincing as a woman struggling to cope with the loss of a child; Steve Harris (The Practice, Friday Night Lights, Minority Report), as Mike’s partner, continues to have more presence than acting ability; and Wilmer Valderrama is . . . Wilmer Valderrama. Let’s hope that creator Kyle Killen has better luck with Awake than he did with last season’s Lonestar (cancelled after just two episodes) and that the show builds on the strength of Jason Isaacs’ performance and twisty, unpredictable writing.