Having had his fingers burned with Lone Star (the critically-adored show about a bigamist Fox axed after two episodes), writer Kyle Killen sticks to the idea of a man leading a double-life, but commercialises it by adding cops and a SF/fantasy bedrock. It's a Life On Mars-esque drama dealing with slippery dreams/parallel universes, replacing nostalgia with the heartache of familial bereavement. Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) suffers the loss of wife Hannah (Laura Allen) in a car accident he and his teenage son Rex (Dylan Minnette) survived, only to discover sleep transports him to an alternate world where his son died and his wife survived...
It helps that the onus of this pilot wasn't on the existential mystery at the heart of it—nicely discussed via therapy sessions with Dr Judith Evans (24's Cherry Jones), or Dr John Lee (B.D Wong), depending on which reality Britten's in—but instead two crimes: the kidnapping of a young girl and a murder. Even without Awake's selling point, this was a decent enough crime procedural, although not astonishingly so. The direction from British director David Slade (Hard Candy) was really great, with some fantastic production design backing it up, although the idea to give each reality a red or green tinge (signifying the colour of rubber bands Britten wears on his wrist in memory of Hannah or Rex) wasn't noticeable enough. There were definitely occasions where it became hard to understand which reality we were looking at, until a memorable change made an appearance (like the different partners Britten works with on cases in each universe). Unlike Fringe, which also deals with alternate universes, the differences in each of Awake's worlds are subtle, but I don't envisage it taking long before we get a grip on things.
Overall, Awake's a great pilot in mainstream network terms, and I didn't come away wishing this was on cable—for a change. Although I'm hoping NBC realise it makes more sense to give shows like this an annual 13-episode commitment, instead of forcing the writers into a backbreaking schedule to hammer out 24 hours. Season 1 of Awake is luckily a mid-season replacement, so at least we know it won't outstay its welcome or start to swim in circles too soon. And if the ratings nosedive because it sheds the curious and only retains the sci-fi fans, I'm hopeful Killen can bring things to a quick resolution. But let's not grieve for something before it's dead, because Awake deserves to be a hit and I'm interested to see where the creative team take things.
- Dylan Minnette played Matthew Fox's son in the sixth season of Lost, which coincidentally also dealt with an alternate timeline.
- Hello to Jason Isaacs.