by Jesus Ibarra
NBC goes big with Awake, after shelving it for midseason; people finally get to see this great piece of television. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the best pilots I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot). It is near perfect. It succeeds on what I believe a pilot should be: a short mini film that tells you an engaging, engrossing story that ends with an open-enough question that makes you want to watch more episodes.
Awake provides on all those levels, telling a poignant story about loss and posing intriguing questions about what is real or not. So what exactly is all the fuss about? Well the story of Awake is the story of Michael Britton, a cop (Jason Isaacs of Harry Potter fame), living two lives after a car accident kills one of his family members. When Michael goes to sleep he wakes up in one world: a world where his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), survives the car accident and his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) died. When he goes to sleep in this world, he wakes up in the second reality where Rex survived the car accident and his wife is the one who died. The realities are also different in interesting ways: Michael has different partners and therapists, which he is forced to go see. Cases that seem different in both realities begin to bleed together, leading Michael to wonder if he is going crazy.
Although many have called this series high concept that belongs on cable, I have to disagree. It isn’t high concept, but it does pose complex and sometimes uncomfortable questions to some people. I say this because in the pilot we see Michael having to deal with burying both his wife and son, yet to him they are still alive. He has to deal with never having his family together again, because either way he has lost them both. He also has to deal with questions like how to help his wife grieve if to him his son isn’t dead, and vice-versa with the son. To some people this might be depressing, but I find it emotionally compelling. That is why this series has a minor procedural aspect to it that anchors it for the general audience. Although I could do without it, the makers of the show balance the character development and case of the week, or in this case, cases of the week, extremely well.
Overall, the makers have made the near perfect pilot. Everything is done so well: the acting, writing, directing, and pacing. When a series has gone from just trying to entertain me (which is what most TV is all about), to completely engrossing me in the story, making me believe, empathize, and understand the characters and their struggles, the producers have gone beyond their job and created art. The overall tale about Michael grips you on both an emotional and intellectual level. This is what I wished all TV did, because for me that’s what television should be. My only concern (and praise at the same time) is that this pilot sets the bar incredibly high, which usually doesn’t happen for television shows until seasons two or three, making me worry that there might be a dip in quality. Nevertheless, that definitely won’t stop me from watching the show or recommending it.
So please watch Awake, and get invested as much as I did. Even if it doesn’t last more than a season, you will still love the pilot. Awake premiered Thursday, March 1, 2012, with new episodes every week.
Learn more about this show on it’s website.