On Thursday, NBC aired the second episode of ‘Awake’, its new cop show with a metaphysical twist. While I’m still intrigued enough to keep watching, I’m also unfortunately still not 100% sold on the series. Considering the number of other cop shows that I continue to watch and enjoy, I don’t know why it bothers me so much that the producers decided to shoehorn an interesting premise onto an otherwise formulaic detective format here. Nevertheless, something about this one doesn’t sit right with me.
With that said, ‘The Little Guy’ refines the formula a little better than the pilot episode did. As before, Det. Britten investigates two separate homicide cases, one in each of his waking realities. One victim was a successful fertility doctor, while the other was a homeless man. Both victims share the same name, but otherwise seem to have nothing in common. Yet when a seemingly unreliable witness claims that he saw a “little guy” kill the homeless man, Britten fixates on narrowing down his suspect pool in the other case to smaller men. His partner in that reality (Steve Harris) doesn’t understand why Britten keeps ruling out viable suspects. Meanwhile, his other partner (Wilmer Valderrama) is annoyed that Britten keeps wasting so much time on a worthless case when they could be working something with a higher profile.
Eventually, Britten figures out that the fertility doctor was murdered by a teenager. It seems that the good doctor had been using his own semen to impregnate hundreds of women. (I find it strange that at least two other TV series have recently had similar storylines: ‘Bored to Death’ and ‘Fringe’. Was there a real case of this in the news last year?) When the teenage boy discovered that his mother’s dead husband, who should be the kid’s father, wasn’t, he killed the doctor in a fit of rage.
The homeless victim’s case goes unsolved, but we’re left with an implication that it will come back around again later. Toward the end of the episode, we’re introduced to Britten’s captain (Laura Innes from ‘ER’ and, more recently, ‘The Event’). She seems to be involved in a conspiracy that caused the car crash where Britten lost either his wife or son. (I’m not sure whether she’s his captain in both realities, or just the one.) This is a pretty interesting twist that will no doubt play a big role as the show goes on.
Another thing I liked is the fact that his two psychiatrists have completely opposite feelings about his alleged dreams. The one played by Cherry Jones finds it fascinating the way that his two states bleed into each other, while the one played by B.D. Wong considers it dangerous to enable his fantasy.
One thing the show still hasn’t quite figured out is how to clearly differentiate which reality Britten is in at any moment. Some toying around with the color palette isn’t consistent enough to be useful. In this episode, the editors occasionally try to separate the timelines by flashing brief interstitial images of Rorschach patterns between the two, which just comes across as extremely cheesy. ‘Fringe’ does a much better job of identifying the jump from one alternate universe to another. That’s something that ‘Awake’ still needs to work on.