Why You Should Be Watching “Awake”

I had little interest in watching Awake on NBC.

I was like… ennh. Okay. Another cop show. This time — with a twist! He’s split between two realities! Or something! I don’t care! I want ice cream and tacos! Fuck yeah! Woo!

Further, I was still a little butt-chapped by NBC’s decision to shelve Community.

Except, then they unshelved Community. Earning a little good will.

Then they started showing promos for Awake.

Jason Isaacs as a detective who loses his wife and/or his son in a car accident — every night he goes to sleep and wakes up in a reality where one or the other survived. But it wasn’t the premise that sold me. The promos revealed a thoughtful, mature show that possessed a gimmick but did not rely upon it.

I knew something was up when my wife saw the promo, said, “Oh, that looks good.”

Suddenly, my interest was piqued.

And last night, I finally got around to watching the DVR’ed pilot episode.

You need to be watching this show.

A Show Written By Writers

That sounds strange, I know. “Chuck, aren’t all TV shows written by writers, you smeg-mouthed dope-donkey?” First: how rude. Second: technically, yes, writers write all shows. But that doesn’t mean they’re the ones in control. Or that what they wrote ends up on the screen. Hollywood offers an ecosystem whereby a great many individuals with absolutely zero sense of good storytelling get to call the shots.

This is not that show.

The show steps out of the gate and in the dialogue makes clear that it’s paying attention to the laws of good storytelling. The one shrink in the one reality tells Michael Britten (Isaacs) to start at the beginning. But the main character says “No, let’s start right now.” Meaning, we’re not going to get a dumptruck of back-chatter and exposition dumped on our heads. We’re going to move through the story where it is now, and get details when we need them — and never before.

Sharp dialogue, strong plotting, damaged characters? This is a writer’s show. (And here my bias as a writer is made clear: any show with quality components and strong story is, to me, a writer’s show.)

The Lost Vibe

I remember watching the first episode of Lost and finding myself more and more transfixed — and pleasantly bewildered — by what was going on. Up until that point where Charlie utters that famous line: “Guys… where are we?” Then, DOOSH: the Lost logo hit and there I was left blinking and wondering just how a show this sublime snuck past the bouncers in TV-Land. (How Lost ended up is a discussion for another time.)

When I watched Awake, I got the same vibe — the same freaky frequency drew me closer. All these little twists and uncertainties and slow reveals. I saw there thinking, “What is happening? What’s really going on?”

They took a very simple concept — plane crash on an island, cop pinballs between two realities (one of which may be a dream) — and gave it to us with subtlety and grace. With a focus on character and story above the contrivance of plot or the cleverness of the logline and yet while still promising that what you’re seeing is (as the therapist played by B.D. Wong puts it) just the tip of an iceberg.

Could it go off the rails?

Sure. Any show could.

But I like having a show so firmly on the rails first, and this is very much that.

Jason Isaacs

Isaacs is, to me, the devil. He plays bad very well. It’s not just Malfoy. It’s Admiral Zhao, or the guy from The Patriot. Isaacs is a chilly, scary dude. So to have him come out of the gate with this protagonist — who feels equally chilly here but yet contains a core of warmth and soul — who you care about so strongly from the get-go, well, it’s a win for me.

Rare To Find A Show That Demands Patience

I’ve no idea if the show will reward that patience — I’m not a haruspex, tearing the intestinal wire from forth my television to examine it for glimpses of the future — but I do know that the show is demanding my patience, which to me is a feature and not a bug. I like a show that wants me to sit down and go for the ride. I don’t want a story to pander to me, to shake its moneymaker in a desperate grab to keep my attention between commercial breaks. This is a show that’s subtle, that’s got nuance, that is asking me to chill the fuck out while it tells me the story it needs to tell.

Again, will it reward? No idea.

But if the pilot is any indication, we’re at least in for an earnest attempt.

You can catch up on the pilot (if it’s still live at the time of this linking) here.

And the show airs tomorrow night (Thurs) at 10pm. Check it.