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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
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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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Joyeful

I thought the colour scheme was obvious UNTIL he woke up that one time and wasn't sure where his wife was...it was blue until he found her then it was red...THEN I got confused. What an amazing show. Glad to have something else to look forward to watching.

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Good job with your 3rd point Rob! The last preview gave a great carrot to dangle in front of the viewers, I caught all that too, but really hate previews telling us too much in advance. I hope there is still going to be a twist at the end -- Like Billy Campbell being Orphius in The Killing! And we still don't know whoi killed Rosie Larsen :-)! This is going to be a great series!!

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I didn't like it!!!!! Give me more of 24 and Jack Bauer!!!!!!!

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I looooooooooved it!!!!! I cannot wait for more. Although the previews for upcoming episodes makes it sound like it'll be some conspiracy or something like "fringe" which I don't like. I hope they never reveal which is real and which is fake. Keep it going as long as its good!!! Ps actor playing "Britten" is hot!!

Nick m

DCB, It's been offered up by NBC promos and the creators that one is real and one is not.

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The pilot kind of reminded me of the Doctor Who episode "Amy's Choice". Whenever Rory, Amy, and The Doctor heard birds, they would fall asleep and wake up in an "alternate" reality. Then you find out at the end that both are fake and the "Dream Lord" was trying to trick them. I thought it was good, but it's definitely one of those shows you have to watch and listen to closely, otherwise you'll get lost.

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When I first watch the promo I was like the show looks good.When I watched the show first couple minutes I got confused. I kinda like this show.I got confused who was alive in each paralel universe. I was almost crying when he starts searching for his son and wife.

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I agree with D Hager. I think he may be the dead one and stuck in limbo.

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Nick: "Britten said he doesn't know the Constitution and I'm taking him at his word. . ."
I've never actively studied it or tried to memorize it either, yet I immediately recognized it for what it was, Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. That means my memory contains enough of it casually to be able to recognize it even though I wouldn't normally ever be able to quote it to you. Memory works funny that way. Dream state memory is even less fully understood. Things that are not real, or possible, in the real world can be dreamed, including self-deception.
"What we know for certain is one reality is real and one is all in his mind."
Maybe I missed something, on what is this 'certainty' based? And if that certainty was offered up by someone/something in one of the universes we are watching, how can we be so sure of its validity if we don't even know which universe is real?

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AS AN LICENCED MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR AND AN RN I WATCHED WITH A CLINICAL AND RECREATIONAL HAT. THIS IS TOTALLY FASCINATING, WELL WRITTEN AND WELL ACTED. I AM NOW A SERIES FAN!

Awake Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Trust me, when it comes to letting one of them go I have no desire to ever make progress.

Britten

Hannah: Are you gonna see him tonight?
Britten: Yeah.
Hannah: Tell him I love him.
Britten: I will.