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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Awake premieres tonight

NBC's new drama Awake premieres tonight, though the "Pilot" has been widely available online, so many have seen it already. The main character in Awake is Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs, Case Histories, the Harry Potter films), who is involved in a car accident with his family. He now lives in two separate realities. In one, he is a widower father to son Rex (Dylan Minnette, Saving Grace, Men of a Certain Age). In the other, Rex is dead, but Michael's wife, Hannah (Laura Allen, Terriers, Dirt), lives on. As two therapists try to help Michael navigate which world is real, his lives in both diverge further.

It is a shame that Awake does not begin with Michael first realizing the dual reality. The car wreck is shown, yes, but the real story of the episode begins sometime later, with Michael returning to work. By now, Michael is already set in the way he handles both versions of his life, using a colored rubber band on his wrist to tell them apart. Viewers miss that initial shock where Michael tries to figure out what is happening, and instead, pick up with him already settled with his lot. A wasted chance for great drama, to be sure.

Michael has no desire to know which world is real. Why would he? Accepting that one is a dream would cost him either his son or his wife, both of whom he loves dearly. As such, Michael decides to keep going on as is, with no motivation to be "cured" of whatever it is that is affecting him in this manner.

This is not good news to his therapists. Dr. Lee (BD Wong, Law & Order: SVU, Oz) is argumentative, trying to convince Michael that his reality is the real one. The other, Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones, 24, Signs), has a much gentler touch, but acts like she can disprove the alternate version, too. All this does is confuse Michael, and upset him, as he fears losing one of his worlds.

Despite the very well constructed "Pilot," it's hard to see where Awake will go from here. Will Michael become unhinged, as he seems to be doing in a disturbing scene with a knife? Will Drs. Evans and Lee do their best every week to convince Michael that they are in the real world, and Michael will keep resisting? With the therapists listed as main characters, there must be some movement in this story. However, if either one gets a serious edge, it risks unraveling the entire premise, and a permanent deadlock will be very difficult to keep interesting.

More likely, Awake is a standard crime procedural that tries to disguise itself as something more with a unique idea. In both versions of his life, Michael is a detective. In the "Pilot," he works on two different cases, one in each reality, with two different partners. But the clues from each case inform on the other, and so, somehow, he manages to figure both out much quicker than his colleagues. This interconnection is done in such a way that viewers will find it impossible to tell which one is just the dream, keeping folks guessing where the originate from.

There is also a possible romantic plot in the world where Rex lives, with tennis coach Tara (Michaela McManus, The Vampire Diaries, Law & Order: SVU) clearly interested in Michael. Of course, this is a non-starter, because Michael believes he is still married. A devoted husband, there is just no way that he will go for two relationships at once. More likely, this plot is simply a device that will force Michael to tell Rex about the other life. Hopefully Rex will handle the information a little better than Hannah does, which again, is told instead of shown, since it happens before the action of the "Pilot" begins.

The acting in Awake is fantastic, of course. With a slate of veterans, led by the terrific Isaacs, it has to be. Aside from those mentioned above, The Practice's Steve Harris plays Michael's long-time partner, while in the second universe, Michael works with rookie Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama, That '70s Show, Handy Manny). Both fit nicely, the latter, surprisingly so. But will these great performers want to stick around when the material grows stale, which seems a likely prospect, sooner rather than later?

Great "Pilot," Awake. Now prove you can do something with it, because the early signs are not good. Awake airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

MORE: If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! Article first published as TV Review: Awake - "Pilot" on Blogcritics.

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