TV Review - Awake

Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten
in "Awake"
Christopher Nolan's Inception had a dilemma. A woman can't tell if she's dreaming or if she's in reality. Her dream is so life-like that she doesn't know the difference. Kyle Killen who created the short-lived Lone Star, which I loved, as well as wrote one of my favorite films of 2011, The Beaver, has decided to take this dilemma and make it a weekly cop series. There's only one problem. The point is to try to figure out if what's happening is a dream or not. The main character here, Michael Britten, is in the dilemma, except he himself doesn't want to figure out if he's dreaming or not. He says he's fine as is.

If that's the case, then there really is no dilemma. If there is no dilemma, then why should I watch this show? The premise is actually just as convoluted as Inception became. Michael Britten was in a car crash with his wife and son, and ever since that accident, he's been living in two realities. He switches between these two realities every time he lays down and goes to sleep. Obviously and logically, he figures one reality is a dream. He just isn't sure which reality is the dream.

In one reality, which could be designated the red reality, following the car crash Michael's 15-year-old son, Rex, dies, while his wife survives. The reason that it's designated red is because Michael wears a red arm band while in this reality. In the other reality and/or dream, Michael's wife, Hannah is the one who dies and his son is the one who survives. This reality can be designated the green reality because Michael wears a green arm band in it. Red reality is where wife is alive. Green reality is where son is alive.

As with Inception, both realities seem very real. Michael sees two therapists. In the red reality, Michael has sessions with a male psychiatrist named Dr. Lee, played by B.D. Wong (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Oz). In the green reality, he has sessions with a female psychiatrist named Dr. Evans, played by Emmy winner Cherry Jones (24). Jones also had a small role in The Beaver. Both of whom make convincing arguments as to why their specific realities aren't dreams.

Unlike Inception, the writers haven't introduced any supernatural or science-fiction elements, so we are to assume that if Michael is dreaming, then those dreams would conform to normal conventions. His subconscious would not be able to sustain this level of vivid detail for as long as this is going. Dreams are still very much a thing we don't fully understand, so who's really to say, but no distinction is made because the makers of this show want no distinction.

The reason why they want no distinction is because this show is less about exploring dreams, Michael's mental condition and even grief over losing someone. Instead, this show is again another cop show with a hook or high concept. Last year, CBS premiered a show called Unforgettable, which was about a female cop who has super memory. This year, FOX introduced a show called Alcatraz that was about another female cop who is hunting down time-traveling criminals.

Doing just another cop show is not enough apparently, so TV producers think they have to have a cop show with some ridiculous premise attached. Here, the ridiculous premise is that Michael Britten has to solve two crimes every week, not just one. In both realities, Michael gets a different crime to solve. In the red reality, he has a young Hispanic partner named Efrem Vega, played by Wilmer Valderrama (Handy Manny and That 70s Show). In the green reality, Michael's partner is Bird Freeman, played by Emmy nominee Steve Harris (The Practice). The trick is that details in one reality's case will be clues in the other reality's case and vice-versa.

But, as Michael says in the pilot episode, he's totally fine with this dual reality. If that's so, then the dual reality becomes nothing more than a gimmick for the series and the gimmick's rules are rather loose, if existent at all. The show is based on the idea that either of the two realities are dreams in Michael's head. Yet, we see moments where Hannah and Rex are by themselves in their own separate realities with Michael nowhere near them. How could those moments be in his dream, if he's not there?

Also, they haven't established how time works here. Does he wake up and relive the same day he just lived in the green reality in the red reality or does he spend Monday in the green reality and then Tuesday in the red reality? That's not made clear in the first three episodes I've seen.

Regardless, the alone moments with Hannah and Rex defy the logic of the show. It leads me to believe that those moments are laying the groundwork for future revelations that will ultimately subvert what we currently know. It could be like a M. Night Shyamalan twist, which could be a good thing, but it doesn't make me interested to follow it step-by-step. The main character isn't interested in the over-arching mystery, so I'm not either.

Two Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thurs at 10PM on NBC.
Episodes available for free on


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