Awake: Pilot Review

The majority of television shows these days follow a pretty basic recipe – take a basic flavour of procedural sponge cake (doctors, police, lawyers) and add some kind of unique frosting to it. So House is a basic medical procedural sponge with a ‘miserable bastard’ frosting on top. CSI is a police procedural with a forensics frosting; if you take that CSI cake and add sprinkles of Navy on the top you end up with NCIS, and if you add a location based cherry on the top of that you get NCIS: LA. It’s all basic cake making.

Sometimes though the frosting takes a step further and combines some weird flavours, this year in particular has got some weird toppings. A Gifted Man is a medical procedural with ghosts, Grimm and Alcatraz are both police procedurals but one has fairy tale monsters the other has time travelling criminals. Awake is the very definition of this ‘high concept’ model. (Don’t worry, I’ll abandon this metaphor now).

Awake is a police procedural, but that’s not what it’s about, that’s just how it tells its story. Detective Michael Britten lives two lives, he literally goes to sleep in one reality and wakes up in another. In one reality a car crash killed his wife, in the other the accident killed their teenage son.

What impressed me most with this show is that it moved straight through some of the obvious steps that other shows might take months to get to. Britten has actually already told people about his situation, his wife in one reality and his therapists in both. Of course, everyone he tells is convinced that their reality is the true one and the other is just a dream – the therapists take different approaches but they work their way through the logical steps just like I would. This means that by the end of the episode the character and audience were all completely convinced that unlikely as it might seem, this guy really is living two realities. Now that’s settled everyone can get on with the more long term issues about how he manages that situation.

The procedural element played second fiddle in the pilot episode understandably, when I think about it now I can’t remember either of the mysteries (one per reality). There was something about hints from one reality’s case giving hints that carried over to the other case, but I wasn’t really focussed on that element and it seemed a little tenuous.

I admit I went into this show hoping it would be good as I’m a big fan of the star (Hello to Jason Isaacs!) but I was delighted and surprised at just how good it was. There’s a huge amount put in the first episode, but it didn’t feel rushed at all, in fact I had to check the episode runtime once I’d finished because I couldn’t believe that it was only 45 minutes. The concept itself is quite simple and elegant, but when you start thinking about it there’s an immense amount of material there. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all develops.

Other reviews
TV Fanatic – I was in awe of Awake by the time the credits rolled. The pilot, and the way it propels the show forward, is emotionally and meticulously crafted. It’s hard to believe this is a TV show when it feels like an experience that is better placed in a theatre. It is honestly one of the best premiers of a show I have ever watched.

CliqueClack – I saw the first handful of episodes, and I’m happy to report that this is one to keep watching. It may not be utterly edge-of-your-seat action and thrills, but it’s consistent and, at many times, moving.

Huffington Post – The good news is that the unusually ambitious “Awake” succeeds at several of the things it’s attempting, and star Jason Isaacs grounds the drama with a charismatic yet subtle performance. I have a few misgivings about the show — I do wonder how “Awake” will work in the long term — but in the near term, I’m happy to stick with this unusual cop show to see where it goes.


2 thoughts on “Awake: Pilot Review

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