I’d like to say that if you haven’t heard of NBC’s Awake, you’ve been living under a rock, but alas, that isn’t true. Though met with relatively enthusiastic reviews from critics, the Jason Isaacs vehicle debuted to a sleepy start on Thursday, March 1st and has been on a steady ratings decline since. Despite its struggle with the ratings, I believe that Awake deserves to be renewed – and here’s why.
1. Its great story: In case you don’t know, Awake centers on Det. Michael Britten (Isaacs), a man who was in a car crash with his wife and son. He lives a split life; in one reality, his wife survived, and in the other, his son survived. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other reality. Each episode weaves in Britten’s relationships with his wife and son, his therapy sessions with his psychologist in each reality (brilliantly played by Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong), and a different crime investigation in each reality, both of which bleed into each other. All these elements make the program a multilayered rumination on life. Watching an episode is like putting together the pieces of a complicated puzzle.
2. Its impeccable cast: The aforementioned Isaacs, Jones, and Wong are the standouts this wonderful cast. Isaacs brilliantly portrays the Britten’s confused emotions, a man who’s trying to make sense of his life. Jones and Wong play two sides of the same coin, with Jones as the sympathetic, encouraging psychologist and Wong as the more aggressive psychologist who points out Britten’s dangerous path. The rest of the cast consists of no slackers either. Of particular note is Dylan Minnette, a teenage actor who can actually act.
3. Its fascinating exploration of psychology: Every episode of Awake thus far has featured at least one scene of Britten talking to each of his psychologists. Rather than becoming tedious, these scenes attempt to explain some of the incongruous events occurring in the timelines, such as the appearance of a penguin in “That’s Not My Penguin.” The psychologists attempt to describe how Britten’s mind is coping with his dual reality, forming barriers so that he doesn’t have to give up either. Some of these scenes even remind me of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (in which psychologist Ingrid Bergman attempts to determine the identity of patient Gregory Peck) in that they use psychoanalysis to unlock how Britten’s mind could be lying to him.
4. Its rare status as a true pseudoserial: A few months ago, I wrote about how I considered Fringe and The Good Wife to be of a hybrid format I called the pseudoserial, which combines a case-of-the-week with ongoing character drama. Awake is another show that deftly blends these two elements, and in a perfect world, it would attract followers of both formats. But like Fringe and The Good Wife, Awake isn’t a great ratings success story. Shows that can manage to balance such vastly different storytelling methods deserve to be on the air.
5. Its potential to restore the NBC Thursday 10:00p.m. slot to its former glory: Think about it: NBC Thursday at 10:00p.m. is the former time slot of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and ER. Ever since ER went off the air, NBC hasn’t been able to produce a hit there. With only one misstep so far this season – last week’s “Nightswimming” – Awake has the storytelling potential to rebuild NBC’s Thursday empire. Recent DVR numbers show a 56% gain in the 18-49 demographic, meaning that about 35% of those viewers aren’t watching the show live. Of course, DVR numbers hardly mean anything to the networks, but Awake also has critical support. One can dream of a second season on NBC.
If NBC does not grant Awake a second season, hopefully, it can enjoy the same fate as Southland, which aired in its slot in 2009. Southland, a critical hit, was canceled by NBC and subsequently rescued by TNT. Can Awake hope for the same future? I certainly hope so.
If you watch and enjoy Awake, what do you find exceptional about it?