How “Awake” Could Have A Shot At Surviving

Worst case scenario: Awake’s pilot is an amazing 45 minutes of television. Best case scenario: it’s the beginning of a show that has the potential to help redefine the form and function of network serial drama.

Awake’s premise is deceptively easy to explain: Detective Michael Britten and his family get in a car accident. After the crash, Britten’s reality is seemingly split into two worlds, one where only he and his wife survived, and another where only he and his son did. Awake juggles these two universes effortlessly, throwing up signposts, such as Britten’s color coded wrist bands, so the audience will know what reality he’s currently experiencing. Still, a question constantly plagues the viewer: what is real?

I hope Awake’s answer is “you’ll never know”. In a meeting with one of his therapists (Britten has two, one in each reality), Britten confesses that he has no desire to ever know what’s real if it means he has to lose one of his family members. This is one of a few lines in the pilot that suggests Awake might not be out to solve the mystery that underlies its narrative. Instead, Awake might ask us to simply accept Britten’s curious circumstances as part of the storyworld in the same way that we accept True Blood’s Bon Temps is full of vampires and werepanthers and that The River’s Amazon is permeated by magic. I think this approach, if taken, will help Awake keep its head above the ratings water.

As I’ve discussed in recent posts and as others have endlessly debated, the recent flood of mythology driven shows on network TV is a double-edged sword. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s also amazing, but in more of a train wreck kind of way. While Awake’s creator Kyle Killen  is clearly a smart guy (his other show about a man with a double life, Lone Star, was short-lived but outstanding), and would probably be capable of spinning out a complicated mythology, I’m hoping he’s chosen not to. Awake as a mythology-based show would be difficult to sustain. How long could they keep the mystery engaging without coming to a conclusion? Awake as a procedural with a twist, on the other hand, is much easier to maintain.

Much of the pilot is devoted to two cases that Britten is trying to solve, one in each reality. His access to both realities becomes a kind of gift, a fresher version of the psychic ability that pops up in many cop dramas, that allows him insight into each of the crimes. As shows like CSI and NCIS demonstrate, the procedural angle is much more accessible for most viewers, which could help Awake find an audience. This doesn’t mean Awake has to lose its edge or intelligence, though. I think those qualities are part of the show’s DNA and will shine all the brighter couched in a procedural, which allows for more room for character development than a complicated mythology that demands as much attention as the characters.

Luckily, Awake has a deep well of complicated characters, situations, and relationships to plumb. To me, a character driven show about what  happens to a family dynamic when that family is split into two realities sounds much more interesting than answering why Britten is or isn’t crazy. I hope Awake is strong enough to not listen to the fans that clamor for the mystery to be solved, and if it chooses to ignore them, I hope the fans will be smart enough to realize what a good choice it was.

Other thoughts

Awake’s pilot is still free to watch online here.

Britten’s son, Rex, is a nice change from the likes of Josh on Terra Nova. Rex  is still a goofy name, though.

Jason Isaacs is an outstanding actor (duh), and I’m excited to see him on the small screen not playing a bad guy.

I have a major girl crush on Laura Allen. Who doesn’t, though?

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TV To Watch In 2012: The Flowchart

Was one of you new year’s resolutions to watch more TV?. With all the great new shows premiering and old favorites returning, it probably should have been. But how to choose what to watch? Let my flowchart be your guide! (Click to enlarge)

Cross posted at The Faster Times

New Year’s Resolutions: TV 2012

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. If you really want to do something, why wait for the new year to decide to do it? But when it comes to TV, making some resolutions (and maybe predictions) makes sense. With a bunch of new shows premiering and some old favorites waiting in the wings, New Years is a perfect time to decide which shows to tune in and which to tune out. Of the debuts, here’s what I plan on (voluntarily) watching in 2012:

Potential New Favorites

Luck. If you read my review of the pilot, you know that I’m basically already in love with this show.

Justified. This isn’t a debut, but I’m a little late to the Harlan County party. I’ve been catching up, and sometimes there’s nothing better than breaking into a new show knowing you have several seasons of uninterrupted viewing ahead.

Smash. I liked Glee for about 30 seconds. I really did. But after about two episodes the narrative voice of the show started to crack, and up sprouted the weed garden of inconsistencies. Smash, you are my new musical-on-TV fix.

On The Fence

Alcatraz. Reviews for JJ Abrams latest creation are mixed. Dull plots and obvious twists seem to be the biggest offenders, but for you, Sam Neill, I’ll give it a shot.

Awake. This show has a really intriguing premise – a police officer wakes up after a car crash to find himself living in two realities, one in which his wife survived the crash but his son did not, and the other in which his son survived but his wife is dead – and a great leading man, Jason Isaacs. So why am I on the fence about it? Two reasons: 1) The conceit of the show is based around the theory of quantum immortality, and I’m a total geek so that’s music to my ears, but incredibly difficult to pull off. 2) It’s on NBC.

So Bad It Demands One Viewing

Work It. If you haven’t heard about this show, just Google it. I’m not going to even summarize the premise. It doesn’t deserve that.


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