Awake Review: A Stunning Premiere

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It’s been over a year since we first learned of Awake (then titled REM), and for over a year I’ve been bugging anyone and everyone here at TV Fanatic for a chance to review it.

When I finally had a chance to sit down and watch the series premiere (and the next three episodes), I was in awe of Awake by the time the credits rolled. The pilot, and the way it propels the show forward, is emotionally and meticulously crafted. It’s hard to believe this is a TV show when it feels like an experience that is better placed in a theatre. It is honestly one of the best premieres of a show I have ever watched.

Is He Awake?

Detective Michael Britten and his family are in a car wreck, and, as we’ve all witnessed in the promotions, from there on Britten exists in two realities: one where his wife survived and one where his son survived. This is where all of the magic happens for Awake, and where it’s going to live or die. Will it be engaging or just downright confusing? The answer is a resounding yes and no, respectively.

Britten’s two realities cause some very deep and raw emotions. How can he be able to cope or move on when he’s essentially decided to live in these two worlds without questioning them? How can Britten move forward in a relationship with Hannah when he’s still able to see Rex and vice versa? For Britten, as an individual, this is the best gift and curse anyone could ever ask for after such a tragedy. He’s absolutely willing to stop any emotional advancement if it means he can continue to spend time with his family.

Yet there’s a curse aspect to it as well. Britten doesn’t know which one is real, and he’s stuck with the image that he’s watched both of his loved ones lowered into the ground. So in a sense he is living a somewhat fictitious life because that’s exactly what one of them is: fiction. However, he doesn’t care, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people who might be in his situation would eagerly do the same if it meant spending time with their family. I certainly would.

Isaac’s supporting cast needs to be able to play off the emotions he’s not having (along with the audience), and continue to move on from their own pain and grief. In certain regards that might actually be harder to pull off than it is playing in two realities. Hannah is trying her best to move on by changing her environment and her life as much as possible, doing almost anything that soaks up as much of her time as possible. Britten even tells her about the “dreams” he’s having with Rex in them, and she wants nothing to do with them (except for an I love you, where it appears she could be coming around).

This puts Britten in a unique position because he’s at a completely different point compared to his wife. She’s ready to start rebuilding her life, and Britten is determined to keep it exactly the same. It’s not clear if she even completely believes how real the dreams are to him or if he’s even told her how real he thinks they are. How can they continue to coexist when they’re becoming two different people? It’s a hard question to answer, and I can’t imagine it will get any easier for the two of them.

Rex, on the other hand, isn’t moving on completely with his life. Instead, he’s doing everything he can to stay close to his mom, deciding to take up tennis in her honor, and at times shunning Britten openly. It’s not hard to find fault with this, he no doubt blames his father for the car wreck, and for all the pain and depression he’s going through. Anything that can keep that bond as close as possible to his mother is something he’s willing to do.

Britten’s realities gives him an edge in that regard; because he still sees Hannah he can potentially use that to find little things Hannah and/or Rex used to do together (and individually) and bond with each of them in a way he couldn’t before. The possibilities with his dual realities from a storytelling point of view are almost endless.

As for the case this week, it mainly serves as a way to ease us, along with Britten, into how the realities will be used with cases. Each side will continually offer a new clue to propel one, or both, cases forward.

So where does Awake go from here? What I can tell you is this is not a mythology driven show like Fringe or Lost. This is a show that is first and foremost a procedural. From what I’ve watched, Britten’s cases will take up the biggest chunk of time, and mythology will be sprinkled in very lightly from time to time. But that’s okay, it’s about time a procedural was shaken up this fundamentally. Procedurals can’t work without strong characters, and Awake has that in spades. The only part that is left to change is the case, and what better way than to tie it around a man who can exist in two distinct, but similar realities where clues zipper together one by one to solve a case.

Real Reality Check

Finally, I want to introduce something that will be in my reviews every week. Real Reality Check is where I will lay out which reality I think is real based on what happens in the episode. It will probably change every week, but I’m willing to risk it! This week’s winner is Green reality, the one where Rex lives. My reasoning is rather simple this week: I would rather lose my partner than lose a child, and Dr. Evans’ constitution scenario is pretty convincing. Your move, Dr. Lee!

Other thoughts:

  • NBC has spelled Britten as “Britton” as well. I’m going with the press release version.
  • Did anyone find things hard to follow once you realized the show has a different color scheme for each reality? Warm colors with the wife (Britten also wears a red bracelet) and cool colors with the son (Green bracelet). It’s been one of the biggest potential “problems” with the show, and I’m curious if anyone felt truly lost. Next week introduces something else to ease confusion as well.
  • Is anyone else hoping for a Harry Potter reference?

What did you think of the premiere? Disappointed? Over-hyped? In love? Let us know in the comments, and I would love to read some of your theories!

Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
  • 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (159 Votes)

Nick McHatton is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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i am apalled that i did not see awake on the schedule for the fall i cant believe that nbc would put a show like this on tv and then just snatch it away. i mean there are way dumber shows that should be canceled and shouldnt have lasted as long. i as a viewer hate that this show will not be back and i only hope that nbc makes a better choice by by keeping awake on the air the finally alone should be credit enough for the show to go on. why put new shows on the network that are probaly gonna go through the same thing give awake another chance because the network definatky has my viewing everyweek my dvr never misses a beat

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This is by far the best TV show out there, its been a while since I've found myself looking forward to a specific TV night, someone told me it won't be back for second season! Please tell me it isn't so! It so smart and entertaining LOVE IT

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Great review. But why do you think that one of the realities should necessarily be false? Quantum suicide, anyone? I guess, both of these realities are real, and I'm pretty sure we'll get more than the two of them. Maybe, the one where the wife and the kid both died. Or the one where he died, and not them.

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Hello! I have read some of your post here and found it interesting and it makes a lot of sense. Plus i love your theme here. Thumbs up! Keep on srnhiag!

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I am just so thrilled to see this great cast propel its way through some interesting storylines and interact with each other. I can't wait to see what happens next.

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I find the concept and so far, the execution, riveting. It's not difficult to keep the two worlds straight, if you pay attention and I'm grateful for a show that challenges me, finally!
As to what I guess the real story is? I'm happy to make a new decision about that every week, it keeps it exciting.
Jaime, 'Amen' on Britton.

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I keep getting distracted by wondering why, if his subconscious is going to create multiple realities, it wouldn't create one in which both lived? Jury is still out on this one for me.

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Neither 'reality' is real. Britton (Britten) is dead, stuck in a reality between life and death where everything he senses is happening in the same instant and is soon to be extinguished.

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I disagree, I think the red world is the real one. The thing is, why would his mind in a dream invent this completely new partner, somebody Britten didn't know before where it would have to come up with everything - background info, mannerisms, voice, etc. In my experience dreams get their inspiration from real life, so the only way this guy could be in Britten's dream would be if he was somehow involved in the accident. This could also explain Britten's distrust towards him.

Realdiehl

Great premiere. Wasn't as difficult to follow as I thought it would be. However, I would recommend paying close attention if you're watching it live (as opposed to DVR). I admit I had to rewind a few times when I let my attention wander. What I find most intriguing is the procedural aspect. How Britten has to essentially work with two different partners depending on which reality he is living in at the moment.