[Note: "I Watch TV" will be an ongoing column, published
when I feel like it at irregular intervals, where I blather about whatever I saw on TV that I especially liked/didn't like. This week, it's "Awake".]
It's official: NBC's "Awake" has passed the four episode test and is now penciled in on my "must-watch" list. I say penciled because we only just got the fourth episode last night. Very rarely do I write in shows in pen before at least midway through the first season. "Awake", however, is solidly on track for ink-inscribed immortality, unless the execs at NBC pull a "Firefly" or a "Life" and screw it up.
If there’s one thing I like on TV, it’s high-concept shows with strong characterization and consistently solid writing. If there’s another thing I like on TV, it’s mystery-driven shows with strong characterization and consistently solid writing. (Woah. Deja-vu-ish.) What I like most on TV is when those shows are one and the same: Give me a fantastic premise and a solid season-long mystery, all rolled into one delicious weekly taquito of an episode, and I’m a very happy camper.
For example, I’ve been a loyal Fringe fan since almost the very beginning. I say "almost", because it wasn’t until the fourth episode that I really got involved with the characters and the story. That episode, "The Arrival", cemented the idea that the mysteries went much, much deeper that just the Case Of The Week. It also proved that the show’s creative team was willing to put their main characters in real danger, which, if I’m honest here, is what really hooked me. Prior to that episode, I was ready to file "Fringe" under "Meh, it was okay." Four seasons later, I still tune in every week, no matter what. (And now that Fox’s other expensive sci-fi show, "Terra Nova", has been cancelled, it’s looking good that we’ll get a fifth season to really wrap things up.)
That early experience with "Fringe" led me to implement the four episode test: Any new show gets three weeks to prove itself. (But did I not say "four episode test"? Quiet, you. You're getting ahead of things.) If, after that third episode, I have any desire to tune into the fourth, and if the fourth can match or surpass the previous three, then bam! I break out my pencil and I scribble it in.
One thing that impresses me about "Awake" is the way it mixes a high-concept premise with straight-up family drama. Detective Michael Britten (played by the excessively studly Jason Isaacs) was in a car crash with his wife and son. Now he bounces back and forth between a world where his wife died (given a green theme) and a world where his son died (red), and he can't figure out which one is real and which is a dream. (You probably know this much from the promos. Seriously, they were all over.) This is made more difficult when one world will provide evidence that it is reality and the other is a dream -- and then the other world will provide evidence that it is the reality, instead. There are also more differences than just whether Britten's wife or son is alive -- we've already met a character with very different lives in each world, and the divergence happened well before the accident that kicked off the plot. Fan theories range from "they're both reality, and he'll have to choose one" to "they're both dreams, and he's in a coma". ("One is real and one is not" is actually considered more far-fetched than the other two, at this point.)
Plus, there's evidence that Britten's accident wasn't actually an accident, and that forces larger than him are affecting his life without his knowledge. So far, this has been seen only in the red world, and we don't know if it has anything at all to do with the jumping back and forth. But if evidence shows up in the green world, too, I swear I will do a victory lap around my living room. And if there's evidence that someone is in charge of Britten's world split, I will crawl right over the back of my recliner and curl up in the cat basket. (Or I might just do a second lap. Depends on what the cat's doing at the moment, really.)
And that's another thing I'm loving about "Awake" -- it has the potential to be my next major hook-up for a weekly mindscrew. Even if "Fringe" gets a fifth season, it will almost certainly be off the air after that, leaving me with one big question: How am I supposed to get my mind blown when my favorite power trio is off the air? I've become accustomed to shouting "What? What?! What?!?!?!" at least three times a season, and to climbing the walls after a cliff-hangery season finale. (Not to mention all the yes-called-its and did-not-see-that-coming-ARGHs.) "Awake" is shaping up to be a handy replacement. But even if there are no real sci-fi-ish elements to come, I'd still watch just to see Britten try to juggle the dueling realities. He works different cases, but similar clues and people pop in both. He's left with "I had a hunch" as his only explanation, and it doesn't always hold up (one of his partners calls him on it early on -- decades on the force, and he's only seen a hunch on TV). He sees two shrinks, both of whom are utterly convinced their reality is true and the other is a dream -- and both of them make compelling cases, as mentioned above.
And the writers seem to have only begun to think of ways to play in their fancy new two-world sandbox. For example, in episode three, Britten's son (green world) is kidnapped. The only lead is killed before Britten can find out Rex's location ... so Britten races home, pops a handful of pills and knocks himself out so he can wake up in the red world and get the information he needs. Not only was the story inventive, the writing was some of the most solid I've ever seen. It takes a lot to truly put me on the edge of my seat, but the scene where Britten confronts his old partner had me literally holding my breath until it resolved itself. Plus, the implications of the kidnapping plot were staggering. Right now, Britten still has both his wife and son, at least half of the time. What if something more were to happen to one of them? If one of them dies, does that reality cease to exist? Would the other reality be affected?
And that leads to even more questions: Just how does this whole thing work? Britten appears to be asleep in one world while he's awake in the other, and the time doesn't seem to be a one-to-one set-up (he's awake for a full day in red world and asleep for a full night in green world -- that's 16:8 hours, assuming normal sleep patterns). When he wakes up to his wife after his son is kidnapped, she mentions that he was tossing and turning all night -- what does that mean? I am incredibly excited to see how these questions resolve themselves.
Final verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5. Definitely worth it.
Avi has a journalism degree and a territorial cat. She blogs elsewhere at [REDACTED], which is not an accurate description of her eating habits, Mom.