May 24, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Check Out THE SKED’s Complete Season Finale Reviews HERE.

Maybe Kyle Killen and Taylor Kitsch should have coffee together.  Kitsch, of course, is now infamous as the only man in history to star in two $200M bombs within a few weeks of one another (John Carter and Battleship, in case your memory is short).  Killen’s streak has been less splashy, but no less painful:  the much-buzzed FOX series Lone Star, which was canceled after 2 episodes, followed by the Mel Gibson misfire The Beaver, and now AWAKE, whose 13th and final disastrous episode aired tonight.  In fact, maybe they should share something a little stronger than coffee.

Awake was an ambitious idea that never even came close to working.  Detective Michael Britten was in an awful car accident, and when he came back to consciousness, he found himself living in a split world:  one where his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) had been killed but his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) survived, and the other where Rex was dead but Hannah lived.  In one world his partner on the force was Vega (Wilmer Valderrama) and his psychiatrist was Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong), in the other he was partnered with Freeman (Steve Harris) and his shrink was Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones).  Crime stories overlapped in the 2 worlds–a casual name that came up in one would turn out to be crucial evidence in the other–and personal stories were similar yet angled differently as well.   (In one world, Britten’s living son feared he’d gotten a girlfriend pregnant but hadn’t; in the other, the girl was bearing Britten’s grandchild.)

Alternate universe stories aren’t unique, but the storytellers almost always make it easier for audiences to know where they are with some obvious–necessary–signposts.  In such stories as Lost, Fringe, Sliding Doors and Once Upon A Time, the protagonists look and act differently in their parallel universes, and the environment itself is often immediately recognizable as different.  In Awake, Britten was identical in both worlds, so the only immediately noticeable difference between one world and another was the fact that one was tinted slightly greenish and the other slightly red.  Then a viewer would have to reconstruct the world in question:  does red mean dead wife or dead son?  Which partner?  Which crime?  Which shrink?

Even more critically, a complicated premise like Awake‘s requires a clear set of rules that are rigidly adhered to, but the show didn’t even make logical sense on its own terms.  We were told at the start that Britten shifted from one world to another when he went to sleep at night–each world was the other’s “dream.”  But that structure broke down almost at once, because episodes would constantly intercut between universes without days passing–and since Britten was often taking a piece of information from one world to solve a crime in the other, the chronology never made sense.  Also, although we should have been experiencing both worlds through Britten’s consciousness, we saw scenes in each that didn’t involve him at all, probably to keep narrative momentum going, but in fact fracturing the entire illusion.

Add to that the fact that the crime stories in almost all the episodes were hackneyed and obvious, warmed-over Law & Order plots, and the result was a full-on disaster.

Tonight’s genuinely impenetrable series finale, written by Killen (from a story by him and staff writers Leonard Chang and Noelle Valdivia), and directed by Miguel Sapochnik, seemed intended to provide some kind of closure (presumably the producers knew from the way the ratings were going that this wasn’t just going to be a season finale), but was an utter failure.  In both worlds, Britten discovered that the car crash wasn’t an accident at all, but a murder plot organized by corrupt cops, headed by his own boss, Captain Harper (Laura Innes).  In one, he successfully tracked down illegal drugs to one of the dirty cops’ storage locker, but in the other universe, he was arrested for the murder of his own partner.  At that point, things became even more surreal than usual, as green-Britten appeared as a visitor at red-Britten’s jail and Britten had–a dream?  a vision?  who knows?–that moved him from one universe to the other so that a penguin-suited Valderrama (no, really–it was a vague callback to an earlier episode) gave him the clue he needed to have Harper arrested..  Then, in the middle of a therapy session with Dr. Evans, she freeze-framed, and he walked into still another universe, which may or may not have been “real,” where his wife and son were both alive and apparently there’d been no car crash at all.

In a word, it was a mess.  Loose ends weren’t so much tied up as used as wallpaper, and nothing even attempted to make any logical sense.  Awake wasted the talents of some very fine actors, and as much as one is tempted to heap blame on Killen’s head, it also belongs with Executive Producer Howard Gordon, who ran the show with Killen and has a lot more experience (including 24 and the brilliant Homeland), and with NBC, which had months after picking up the pilot to make sure the series would work, and failed completely to do so.

One would like to admire Awake for its ambitions, but a terrible show is a terrible show, no matter how high it aims. This series richly deserves its big sleep.

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."