Despite how desperate networks apparently are to discover the next hit serialized genre series, they also seem to be afraid of alienating audiences with complex mythology and intricate ongoing storylines. NBC’s Awake is the latest high-concept genre show that spends most of its time on solving cases of the week, and not even very interesting cases at that.
After a serious car accident, LAPD detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) finds himself living in two worlds. In one, his wife (Laura Allen) died in the accident, while his teenage son (Dylan Minnette) lived, and in the other, his son died and his wife lived. Each time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other reality, complete with dueling therapists (BD Wong, Cherry Jones), different partners (Wilmer Valderrama, Steve Harris) and two sets of homicide cases to solve.
Michael spends a lot of time futilely trying to convince his therapists that he’s actually living in two worlds, not merely dreaming one of them up. More disappointingly, once Michael gets a handle on the whole two-worlds thing, he mainly just goes about the dull business of solving standard-issue TV-drama murder cases. Small elements of each world’s case bleed over into the other, but even those seemingly mystical elements only lead to mundane solutions.
The second episode ends with a brief glimpse at an overarching conspiracy, which presumably will become more prominent as the series progresses. More often, though, it’s just another series about grim detectives solving grimmer crimes, dressed up with a sci-fi premise that’s not nearly as fascinating as the creators seem to believe.