Starring Jason Isaacs, Laura Allen, and Dylan Minnette.
Cogito Ergo Sum
René Descartes seemingly graces the annals of history exclusively for the quote, “I think; therefore I am.” The sentence is an answer on a high school history quiz; it is chiseled in the foundations of university philosophy departments. Unhooked from its preceding line of reasoning on the pursuit of epistemological truth, the sentence sounds painfully obvious.
By positing that thinking is his conclusive proof of his existence, Descartes asserts that all other sensory experience might be false. As such, the all-too-familiar notion of a realistic dream offers questions.
If a dream feels real, how can we ever be conclusively certain if we are not dreaming? Resoundingly, Descartes asserts that we will never know and therefore we can’t hold sensory experience on epistemological grounds.
To Sleep Perchance to Dream
In this notion, we find the intriguing premise for Awake, NBC’s latest attempt at earning market share. After a car accident ends the life of a family member, Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) finds himself caught in two realities. In one, Michael and his wife mourn the loss of their teenage son; in the other, Michael and his son cope with the death of a wife and mother. As Michael tumbles into sleep each night, he immediately awakes in an alternate reality.
A police detective, Michael effectively lives twice each day, solving different cases, seeking council with different psychiatrists and dealing with the emotional instability attached to burying a wife and/or son.
Beauty in the Green and Red
In addition to this intriguing premise, the pilot episode of Awake offers beautiful visuals and exceptional acting. First, the alternate realities hold different aesthetics. The Michael/son reality carries a dark palette with grays and greens; conversely, the Michael/wife reality is bright with a kaleidoscope of yellows and reds.
Second, Jason Isaacs remains in control of his character acting with a subtlety open to the deep emotion of grief and loss but not oblivious to the unbelievable dichotomy of reality. The story exclusively follows Michael Britten. Therefore, the viewer can never tell what’s true. As each psychiatrist tries to prove their reality conclusively, a cat-and-mouse game ensues with Michael acting as the messenger. In all, Awake offers much to intrigue.
Too Good to Be True?
I, however, am concerned.
First, Awake acts as a case-of-the-week procedural at its core. Of course, the otherworldly premise will keep this show from suffering the verdict of a CSI knock-off. While the case-of-the-week shtick provides the show with long-running possibilities, I find such quick action deleterious to character and setting development. If you have one hour to catch a killer, you have less time to marinate on the intricacies of Michael Britten and his dual reality.
Even more worrisome, the preview for this season hints at a third-party conspiracy. Part of the brilliance in the pilot surrounds the sole focus on Michael Britten. A third-party view would be exceedingly detrimental to the plot. We see Michael in sorrow and confusion as he carefully attempts to piece life back together. Awake is a powerful show if the dual reality is a product of Michael Britten’s fragile psyche. If this carefully executed premise is a staged third-party operation, Awake is another mindless network drone.
I hope and pray Awake makes the right moves. With the continuous pressure facing NBC to make a hit television show, I worry that network executives will seek lowest common denominator entertainment over excellent art. Chances are Awake will be cancelled before it ruins itself. No matter the outcome, nobody can take away this powerful pilot. At the very worst, it functions well as a well-executed short film. Awake is worth watching, for now.
Pilot Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars
Series Verdict: TBD