“Let’s start with right now.”
Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is in his first session with his department- issued psychiatrist, Dr. Lee. Since the loss of his son in a car accident, Michael has had difficulty accepting that his son is really dead. Because Michael sees his son every time he closes his eyes. Literally.
Because Michael’s son is not really dead.
It was his wife who died in the accident. And his psychiatrist’s name isn’t Dr. Lee, it’s Judith Evans.
Confused? Totally understandable. That’s the greatest challenge Awake has to overcome. But one I think it does admirably.
Here’s the scoop: Since the accident, Michael has found himself phasing between two different realities on a daily basis. In one, his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) has died in the accident, and another in which his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) died instead. To keep things straight, the world in which Hannah has died has a green hue, while the world without Rex has a red one. His days are framed mostly by his visits to his two shrinks, who spend a lot of time one upping each other in trying to convince Michael that their own respective reality is the real one.
So far it’s a tie.
Awake is very considerate of the fact that it’s bound to be confusing as hell to watch a character play out two different possible lives simultaneously. Aside from the visual cues, Britten has different partners, different psychiatrists, and (at least in the first episode) is working on two different cases. This steers the show away from falling into David Lynchian territory, and I mean that in a good way. Because this isn’t the kind of show that confuses a convoluted mythology and unanswered questions with intrigue. It’s thoughtful and deliberate, which is very helpful when stretching a storyline that sounds straight out of “The Outer Limits” into an entire TV series.
And that’s where things get interesting. Thus far, Michael is the only one aware of the two realities. His wife and his shrinks think he’s crazy (let’s face it: who wouldn’t?), but Michael seems totally content with the cards he’s been dealt, even if he doesn’t have the slightest idea what he’s looking at. It’s hard not to respect him for that. That is, until clues in a series of robbery homicides in Red World begin connecting to a kidnapping in Green World. There is absolutely no indication as to what this could possibly mean, but it’s clear there are forces at work here that have yet to be seen.
It’s not often that a network show comes along and redefines a genre. In every generation there is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or a Lost, or a Battlestar Gallactica that reminds us how fun sci-fi can be when there’s as much effort put into character and subtext as there is in finding a new ways to confuse and entice the viewer. It’s a high concept series that’s part procedural, part family drama, and part sci-fi head-scratcher. But it’s able to pull all this off without spreading itself too thin or getting lost in its own mythology. And that’s something of a rarity.
Awake is the good kind of scifi, and we can only hope nobody pulls a Firefly and wakes us up before the dream is over.