Review: Awake

Awake certainly starts with a bang. Or more, accurately, a particularly nasty car crash.

Then, through the well-worn medium of montage, we fast-forward several months in the life of police detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), who is putting his life back together after one of his loved ones died in the accident. The catch is, both his son and wife died. And didn’t.

Half of Britten’s life is spent living an ordinary, humdrum existence with his wife (Laura Allen), then when he goes to sleep he wakes up to find himself living an equally ordinary, humdrum existence with his son (Dylan Minnette). Both worlds seem completely real when he’s in them, so the question is:  is he mad, dreaming or living in two alternate realities?

Like Life on Mars without the 70’s fashion (or any characters anywhere near as compelling as Gene Hunt), Awake balances the protagonist’s displacement drama with some crime-solving, though for some reason he’s working on a different case in each reality. In fact, no reason is given for any of the discrepancies that exist between his two supposedly parallel lives – why would whether his son or wife died affect whether he has Angry Black Cop or Recently Promoted Latino for a partner?

Yet even with these differences, and having one reality all tinged with blue and the other gold, it’s often difficult to follow which world Britten’s in. Britten himself wears two different coloured armbands to keep track, but whenever his wrists and/or whichever family member is still living aren’t in view, confusion abounds.

What’s more, assuming this is your typical American formula drama, the scriptwriters have given themselves a lot to pack in per episode – poor Britten has to spend time with his wife, his son, partners, therapists and solve two seemingly different but somehow tenuously connected murders, all in 42 minutes. Makes Jack Bauer’s day look like a walk in the park.

Yet for a pilot episode, it somehow manages to squeeze all that in and more. By the end, it feels more like midway through a season than an opener, as so much has already been resolved. It’s hard to see where the show can go in the next 12 episodes.

But despite fears that the show may end up collapsing under the weight of its own high concept, it’ll be interesting to see where Awake goes from here; whether that involves settling into a repetitive formula or maybe going somewhere completely unexpected.

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