The TV landscape is so inundated with shows about detectives, that simply being about a detective isn’t enough to capture an audience’s attention anymore. Any new series is therefore forced to put its own unique spin on the genre. Thus, we’ve had shows about detectives who write mystery novels, detectives with OCD, detectives who are also serial killers, time-traveling detectives, detectives who hunt fairy tale monsters, detectives who talk to the dead, detectives who talk to angels, psychic detectives, detectives who pretend to be psychic, detectives who used to pretend to be psychic, etc. and so forth and so on. This past Thursday, NBC premiered the new drama ‘Awake’, about a homicide detective who jumps back and forth between two separate, alternating realities, one in which his wife is alive but his son died, and another where the opposite happened. Can this detective show set itself apart from the pack?
The ‘Pilot’ episode wastes little time establishing the premise. It opens immediately with a car crash. Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the ‘Harry Potter’ movies) plays Det. Mike Britten. He goes to bed each night knowing that his whole world will change the next day. On one morning, he wakes up in a timeline where his wife (Laura Allen from ‘Terriers’) survived the crash. The next morning, he wakes up in a timeline where his teenage son Rex (Dylan Minnette, who played Jack’s son on ‘Lost’) survived instead. Ne’er the two things do meet.
Other details between these two worlds differ as well. In one, he’s partnered with a veteran cop (Steve Harris from ‘The Practice’). In the other, he’s been assigned to work with a rookie (Wilmer Valderrama). He also sees two different psychiatrists, Cherry Jones (from ’24’) and BD Wong (from ‘Oz’ and ‘Law & Order: SVU’). The two shrinks both tell him essentially the same thing: One of his realities is a wish-fulfillment dream that he’s having. He needs to determine which one is real and let the other one go, in order to move on with his life. By the end of the pilot episode, Britten decides that he has no intention of ever doing that. He refuses to lose either his wife or his son. If he can’t have them together, he can at least have them separately. He will hold onto both realities as long as he can.
Britten works two cases in the pilot, one for each timeline. In one, he investigates a home invasion murder/kidnapping. In the other, he hunts down a serial killer who murders cab drivers. This is where details from the two timelines start to bleed through to each other. The number 611 is an important clue in both cases, and both killers turn out to have red hair. Britten doesn’t know what to make of this.
The alternate realities angle makes for an intriguing premise. The cast is also pretty appealing. (Even Valderrama acquits himself adequately.) The pilot episode (directed by David Slade, who made ’30 Days of Night’ and, regrettably, ‘Twilight: Eclipse’) is perhaps a little overly confusing, and doesn’t always do enough to establish which timeline the character is in. For a while, each world has its own separate color palette, warm hues for his wife’s reality and cold blues for his son’s. However, that scheme isn’t always consistent. Regardless, I think that sort of issue can work itself out as the show goes along.
What I find more problematic is the simple fact that this has to be yet another detective show. Don’t we have enough of those? Was there no other career that the character could have been given to make this premise work? His need to investigate two separate cases each episode may also present some issues. Neither case in this first episode is terribly fleshed out. Both feel pretty inconsequential.
And am I the only one who finds it completely obvious that Britten himself really died in the car crash and is stuck in some sort of purgatory? That inevitable revelation isn’t going to be as shocking as the writers want it to be.
On the other hand, I suppose that’s better than the alternative. The series reminds me quite a bit of ‘Life on Mars’. I swear, if the season ends with the character waking up on a spaceship with Harvey Keitel, I’m going to march out to Hollywood and punch each and every one of the show’s producers in the face.