Sunday, March 4, 2012

Belated TV Review: "Awake"

Because of my last post's aforementioned 5000 plates, I didn't get to see the premiere episode of NBC's newest genre drama "Awake," until tonight. And I have to be perfectly honest admit that I thought... well, about that in a moment (or three).

Ruggedly handsome Jason Isaacs, best known to American audiences as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, is Detective Michael Britten; a man who is having a rather unusual experience -- or should it be 'experiences?'-- after a devastating  auto accident. Mike seems to have found himself torn between two realities. In one, his wife Hannah (Laura Allen from "The 4400" and "Terriers") survived the accident but not his son. In the other, his son Rex ("Saving Grace" and "Lost" alum Dylan Minette), instead of his wife. He goes to sleep in one reality and awakens in the other. He is seeing a therapist in both realities, who offer conflicting advice and opinions and each other's therapies, while insisting their counterpart is a fantasy. B.D. Wong ("Law & Order: SVU") plays the aggressive realist who insists Mike's other world is a dream, while the always impressive Cherry Jones (the last POTUS on "24") is the more sympathetic shrink, though equally insistent on her own reality. Mike also has different partners and cases in each world, though both cases have similar details which seem to impact on one another. Wilmer Valderama ("That 70's Show;" "Royal Pains") and Steve Harris ("The Practice;" Quarantine) are the respective partners.

New genre TV hasn't been so good, so far (see "The River") this year. But I must admit that the first episode of  NBC's "Awake" has me intrigued. We know nothing about Mike and his family's lives before the accident, so what bearing does any of that have on what's happening to him? Why are some things leaking over from one reality to the other? Which world (if either) is reality?  

Isaacs, with his rugged good looks (and impressive American accent) is exceptional in his performance as an emotionally devastated man who has decided to try to embrace the duality of his existence rather than deny one for the other. Allen and Minette are both seasoned up-and-comers who are able to deliver the kind of solid performances needed in show like "Awake." It helps that both of the therapists are played by two highly-regarded (and openly gay) Broadway and TV veterans in Wong and Jones. 

Show creator Kyle Killen ("Lonestar") has done a fine job in setting up the premise by starting right in the middle of the story, with possibly the most minimalist (is that an oxymoron?) exposition possible, which made me immediately want to know about the events that led up the accident and what effects (if any) they have on what's happening now. The show is beautifully shot in alternately realistic and semi-dream-like styles and anchored by the dedicated performances from an excellent cast.

The central conceit of "Awake" is about as high-concept as genre TV can get. It also joins "Fringe" (for my money, the best show on broadcast TV) as the second contemporary network series to feature alternate universes, albeit in very different ways. ***1/2 (Three and a Half out of Four Stars).

Have you seen "Awake?" What did you think? 

More, anon.

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