March 1, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full TV pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

AWAKE –  Midseason on NBC:   If Nothing Else Is On…

NBC’s AWAKE is sleepier than it sounds.  Its premise is certainly intriguing:  Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is the driver in a terrible accident, with his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) and teenage son Rex (Dylan Minnette) in the car.  When he returns to consciousness, he finds himself straddling two separate existences, one where Hannah was killed and Rex is alive, and the other where the reverse occurred.  When he goes to sleep in one life, he instantly wakes in the other.  Both appear to be entirely real–he continues to carry out his job, solving separate (but with clues that are somehow linked) crimes with different partners (Steve Harris and Wilmer Valderrama); his partner in one world exists as a cop in the other.  Also, he attends psychiatric sessions in each world with a different shrink (Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong), each of whom tries to convince him that his or her reality is the true one.

So what’s going on?  Well, Awake isn’t saying, because that would be the end of the show.  In the pilot, written by Kyle Killen (unfortunately best known for writing two recently ambitious failures, Lone Star on TV and The Beaver in theatres), we simply watch Britten bounce from one plane of existence to the other, missing whomever’s deceased in that reality, attending his therapy sessions and doggedly working at his job.  Where his wife is alive, she knows that he “dreams” of their son; in Rex’s world, there’s an attractive potential love interest in his son’s tennis coach (Michaela McManus). In both worlds, Britten is a very sad man.

It must have all made for a great pitch meeting, but on screen Awake doesn’t add up to much.  Unlike alternate reality movies like Sliding Doors or Groundhog Day, there’s no overall story arc to the different realities, at least none that’s revealed in the pilot.  (There’s a hint that Michael might be more responsible for the accident than he can admit, but it doesn’t go very far.)  Rather, Awake is reminiscent of ABC’s shortlived 2006 Day Break, where Taye Diggs had to keep living the same day over and over until he could change what would happen, or what the movie Source Code would have been like if we never found out what was going on with Jake Gyllenhaal.  Technically, it’s not that dramatically stagnant, since Britten will have new crimes to solve and his personal life will move forward in each reality, but those things alone aren’t very satisfying.

Awake isn’t helped by the muted style with which it’s been made.  Director David Slade (he did the last Twilight movie, and before that the vampire-fest 30 Days of Night) keeps everything very low-key; there’s an almost hushed tone to the therapy scenes.  Frankly, the material didn’t need or deserve that level of respect.  Isaacs is an excellent actor (he’s probably best known as Papa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, but he did superb work on Showtime’s Brotherhood), and no supporting cast that features Cherry Jones lacks for firepower.  But rather than the two worlds seeming real in Awake, neither quite does; each of them feels somehow sketchy and undeveloped.

NBC hasn’t yet announced where they’ll place Awake on their schedule, and it’s going to be a tough show to slot:  a serious, slow drama that isn’t likely to skew young.  Perhaps in later episodes, Awake will find a way to introduce more compelling storylines and variations on its theme; for now, it’s two parallel versions of “not that interesting.”

Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."