||[Mar. 4th, 2012|10:10 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
When I first heard about NBC's new drama Awake, I expected it to be just another too-high-concept idea that wouldn't last a season. I also thought it would be irredeemably treacly. But a surprisingly positive review in The New York Times made me set my DVR to record it Thursday night, and now, having seen the pilot, I'm glad I did.
The stone-faced Jason Isaacs plays Michael Britten, a husband and father who suffered a terrible car accident. Only now Michael is bouncing between two realities, one where his wife Hannah died in the accident but his son Rex is still alive, and one where Hannah is alive but Rex died. But because you can't fill an hour with going on healing dates with the wife or watching the son's tennis matches, Michael is also a police detective who has cases to solve. Interestingly, clues from the case in one reality seem to bleed over into the other, helping him solve both. (In one world, his partner is Wilmer Valderrama, last seen in That 70s Show and in, um, Lindsay Lohan. Remember when everyone thought he was going to be the breakout star of that show? Sorry, Wilmer. Maybe you should have married Demi Moore instead.)
But of course living in two parallel universes isn't normal, so in both of them Michael is forced by the police department to see a shrink. (In one world, the shrink is played by B.D. Wong, of course, because the only characters B.D. Wong ever plays are shrinks.) To me, these sessions are as riveting as the police cases, or maybe even more so, because they delve so deeply into Michael's subconscious wants and needs, which in turn makes it easier for the audience to identify and care about him.
Frankly, I found the episode to be well written, well acted, and well directed, a rare trifecta for a pilot. In fact, most pilots are so raw they can barely get one of these ingredients right. Unfortunately, after a perfectly understated episode, the scenes for next week seem to introduce a conspiracy about who caused the fatal car accident. Let me just say, for the record, that your faithful TV Nerd loathes when shows shoe-horn conspiracies into their stories. It has become lazy shorthand, a way to try to keep an audience hooked, and most of the time it's utterly superfluous. I can assure you, people who make TV happen, a strong story with compelling characters is enough to keep an audience hooked on its own. Awake, it turns out, is strong enough already. Drop the conspiracy, please, before it sidetracks what makes this show so interesting.