Let’s take a look at NBC’s much-heralded new series Awake, shall we?
In the opening moments, a car plunges off an embankment and rolls down a hill. The driver, Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), is banged up but not seriously injured; his passengers, wife Hannah and teenaged son Max, aren’t as lucky.
When next we see Britten, he’s meeting with psychiatrist Dr. Lee, who is helping him work through the trauma of his son’s death. Britten’s higher-ups have concerns about his mental state, so in addition to the mandatory psych evaluations, they’ve assigned him a brand-new partner, Vega (Wilmer Valderrama), who’s been instructed to report back on his behavior in the field. Vega and Britten investigate the murder of a cab driver, who was shot through his windshield on a busy street with plenty of witnesses.
Dr. Lee, by the way, is played by B.D. Wong, who brings his patented aura of no-nonsense unruffled benevolence to the role. I’m always happy to see Wong, and I appreciate the calm, mellow vibe surrounding him, but just once I’d like to see him cast against type as a crazed murderer, or a lawless hooligan, or a decadent party animal.
Britten returns home to Hannah, who is redecorating their house in an attempt to move on from Max’s death. She’s also mulling over the possibility of attending grad school in Oregon. The scenes with Hannah are, unfortunately, far and away the draggiest part of this episode. As Hannah, Laura Allen is a fine actress, but physically, she’s an odd choice for the role. She has a pronounced girlish quality to her, particularly in regard to her high-pitched speaking voice, that seems jarring for the part of a grieving mother of a teenaged boy. And she seems too damned young to be married to Lucius Malfoy.
Britten goes to sleep… and wakes up in an alternate reality, in which Hannah died and Max survived the accident. In the wake of Hannah’s death, father and son have a strained but cordial relationship. Max is played by Dylan Minnette, who was Jack’s son in the alternate timeline in Lost’s final season, so, y’know, the kid’s already had some valuable experience playing people who might not actually exist. The scenes with Max are also maybe a little draggy, but frankly, I’m just so impressed and relieved to see a non-obnoxious, non-douchebaggy teenaged-boy character on television that I’m willing to give them a little latitude.
Apparently there’s no Detective Vega in this reality: Britten is still paired up with his original partner, Detective Freeman (Steve Harris). Freeman and Britten investigate a brutal home invasion, in which a husband and wife were slaughtered and their young daughter was kidnapped. Britten also has a different shrink in this reality: Dr. Evans (24’s Cherry Jones). Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans believe Britten’s mind created an alternate reality to escape the trauma of having lost a loved one. Problem is, Britten has no idea which reality is real and which exists only in a dream state. To differentiate between the two, he wears a red rubber band around his wrist in the reality where his wife is alive, and a green rubber band in the one where his son survived.
Red reality: A second cab driver is murdered in exactly the same manner as the first. The killer wore a wig, which he ditched in a nearby dumpster; a single natural red hair is gleaned from it.
Green reality: Britten and Freeman discover the home invader/kidnapper parked his trailer just prior to the killings in the Waverly parking structure, space 611…
…which triggers a memory in Britten. In the red reality, the first cabbie was murdered in front of a building at 611 Waverly. Okay, see, that’s interesting. That’s a cool twist. The very best parts of Awake all involve the twin unrelated-yet-mysteriously-linked investigations. That clues from each investigation cross over into the other reality… yeah, that’s a clever touch, and it gives this series a jolt of needed fuel.
Red reality: Acting upon the clue he received in the green reality, Britten, with Vega in tow, returns to 611 Waverly, where he realizes an eyewitness to the first cabbie’s murder, who claimed to have seen the killing from his apartment window, lied about his version of events. When he tries to interrogate the witness again, the witness pulls a gun on him. Vega shoots the witness, who turns out to be the red-haired killer of the two cab drivers.
Green reality: Britten and Freeman find the kidnapper’s trailer. When Britten tries to smuggle the kidnapped girl to safety, the kidnapper -- the same red-haired man who murdered the two cabbies in the other reality -- attacks him. Freeman shoots and kills the man to save Britten.
In both realities, Britten insists to Dr. Lee and Dr. Evans, that, while he tested positive for elevated blood alcohol levels after the car accident, he hadn’t had anything to drink that night. He can’t remember the events leading up to the accident; both shrinks think his opposing realities might be his subconscious way of avoiding facing responsibility for causing the tragedy. Dr. Lee is full of dire warnings about what might happen if he continues to try to live in both realities, but Britten, relieved at having some way of keeping both his wife and son are alive, isn’t terribly concerned about this.
A promising start. Slow in places, but it’s anchored by a good performance from Isaacs, and the premise alone is innovative enough to sustain interest for at least a few episodes. Let’s see where they take it from here.