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This show was canceled due to poor ratings. While it started strong, it lost many viewers immediately, and never quite made them up across its thirteen week run. As much as I thought the show didn’t fully live up to its pilot episode, it’s still unfortunate that we won’t have any more. It’s a good thing then, that it ended so strongly.

By the end, Awake worked and didn’t work. It did round out its series premise pretty well, creating a whole narrative that is satisfying as science-fiction drama, but in the moment was clunky and awkward. The show didn’t need to be thirteen hours long, and would’ve worked better as a movie, as the best moments were those pertinent to the over-arching story — those in the first episode and the last two or three.

These moments, especially those in the series finale, are pretty intense and actually unpredictable. It’s good to see Michael Britten take risks and do things we don’t agree with, or put himself into dangerous situations — and lose at times. In this episode, he’s getting closer to the truth we already know, which puts his red reality in jeopardy.

*Spoilers to follow*

The big question throughout the series is ‘which reality is the real reality,’ and I did have a feeling that neither were, but with a title like Awake, I should’ve realized it was all a dream. So by the end the show becomes an interesting meditation on grief; it’s the story of a man grappling with the loss of loved ones and the journey toward acceptance. Accepting that one of his family members is dead runs parallel to accepting one reality, and in the show’s final scene we see that he’s finally awake, and his family is alive.

To reach this happy ending he must do as he always does, investigate, and it’s a great test to a seasoned detective. It’s a good story and when the ending revealed what was what the whole time, my first reaction was “lame,” but then the full weight of the situation caught up to it and the scene became a touching, satisfying moment that left me feeling pretty good about the series.

But then I thought back to those episodes in the middle, and on the whole, Awake was not a great show. It’s a narrative tugged back and forth by the realities of the television industry, which makes it a miracle that the story ended with an ending. There remain some loose threads, but it’s all good. Because when it’s over, we had in fact spent a whole lot of time following Jason Isaacs go around and solve cases by using parallel worlds, and that was pretty good.

And when time came to uncover the truth behind those worlds, we see the truth behind the series, that it was about a man struggling to overcome a fractured mind after a traumatic incident,who could know grief and accept it before everything returned to normal. Now that the show is over, sitcoms continue on, and we’ll wait for the next good, thought-provoking scifi show — just as it always is.

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The season is winding down as tension and story ramps up in this, penultimate episode. Britten becomes more obsessed with Hawkin, the detective he suspects — or rather, is certain — killed his wife/son by running him off the road, the incident that started everything. Through trial and error between the two worlds, he slowly works his way up the mystery chain, jumping through hoops and endless second guessing (sometimes from those attempting to cover it all up), while getting into dangerous, sometimes deadly situations.

This is like, the perfect season finale’s eve episode, setting up what could be a solid, slam-bang ending. The over-arc of Awake is without a doubt its strongest element, as it uses the dream thing (the show’s premise) to its best effect. Britten learns something in one world and is able to use it in the other, while we keep his status in either in the backs of our minds.

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Looks like they’re headed for a season ender, a nice three episode arc. General consenus is that this is the best episode since the pilot, and that’s true, without a doubt. It kind of reminds me of Dexter — if Dexter was a network TV show. It’d still have that ramp-up at the end that hooks you, but since Awake is a little watered down in terms of drama and most things, the hook doesn’t penetrate that deeply. I’ll hope for a second season, unless the conclusion is something real dumb, but this didn’t become the major science-fiction show I hoped it might.

Still, it is entertaining, and the areas it does explore offer some interesting dialogues. In this episode Michael’s fallen out of one of his reality, and must finally grieve the loss of his son. He’s also haunted by hallucinations, and this leads him on a spiraling journey of seeming self-destruction that ends with a discovery — the accident that created two worlds was no accident.

Now he’s thinking the Lord of the Rings fan from Clerks II is responsible, and we’ll see where that goes. I really liked that guy (Mr. Blonde, according to Wikipedia), he did a good job acting out Michael’s self-talk.

What starts out as intriguing, reopening the question of which world is true, and pushing BD Wong to affirm his theory with more aggression, follows through with healthy human drama. At the center is a man grappling with the confusing loss of a loved one — the dream worlds shattering becomes an interesting expression of his loneliness and frustration. It’s a good episode, and a good show.

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So they end this episode with the new gang watching The X-Files. Funny, because that’s like what this show’s like.

Anyway I’ve been realizing that I really like Jason Isaacs. He’s been one of those false-ubiquitous faces, like Colin Salmon or Ron Perlman, maybe Danny Trejo — people who show up in genre fare as secondary characters but you’re always like… damn I like that guy. Hard to explain. Talented actors, but rarely do they have their day in the sun. Hellboy was good, but that was like, one time. One time*.

This episode was okay but the next one looks better — glad I could see the preview — looks like they’re going to mess around with the mythology, or better… begin the mythology. But they introduce a new dramatic element, and it’ll be interesting to see where that goes. As these reviews grow progressively lazy and less enthusiastic, the show begins to pick up speed…

*Hellboy II was bad. Only good part was Trollcart, a half-troll half-cart character rolling along in the third act

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I know these last few reviews have felt negative, and that’s because Awake‘s started to fall into a formula, one where the twists are predictable — not necessarily like I can call the murderer in Act I (though usually it’s the other guy), but in a post-Signs M. Night Shyamalan way. We know the twists are coming, and we wish the unpredictable nature of the show and its universe were offering the surprises, not an old tradition of police procedural structure.

Possibly it tries to do too much, balancing the week to week plot line, which is complex but doesn’t feel complex, and the over-arching family drama (both with that key twist, and by-the-numbers). Characters develop around the plot, not in it, which I’ve seen before in network, broad-appeal television shows. Not much is known about Michael Britten other than he seems to be a pretty pleasant guy.

The episode ends strongly though, which says a lot because it somewhat cliffhangers you. It did what I had hoped it’d do from the start, which is introduce a universe-specific what-if idea, and explore what effects that would have on the cast of [established] characters. I’m excited to see the next episode, which I don’t think I’ve been since the pilot.

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Expanding on what I was talking about last time, Awake almost seems more concerned with its special guest characters than secondary or even main. We spend 90% of the episode on the accountant’s wife and the accountant, and a little bit with Michael, his CI, and then his wife, which were the best moments. I don’t watch a lot of police shows, but this one feels more character-driven and personal, which makes me wonder why it feels like those episodes of SVU I have seen.

It’s almost like it’s already in a later season — early on its established who the characters are and a little of what they do, but doesn’t care too much to investigate or drive them in any direction. They still feel like archetypes, and I’m starting to feel the show settle on a formula. The formula is fine, the show’s entertaining enough, and Jason Isaacs is always awesome, but good performances and a good premise may not be enough in this case.

I’d imagine this season is a 13-episode run, so we should start building towards an end. We’ve been getting hints at a larger story-arc, so hopefully this will be one of the last ‘stand alone’ or ‘case of the week’ episodes.

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Awake would benefit from fleshing out its secondary characters. This show in particular is at a disadvantage because it’s science-fiction, or science-fictiony-feeling fantasy, so there’s an obligation to world-building that when neglected leaves viewers in the lurch, but all shows create worlds, and therefore all must populate them reasonably. Some shows that’s sort of the premise, like with The Wire. Every minor character has depth, even this hardcore killer Chris — it’s all in the eyes, and the dramatic looks — is more than an archetype, and the show’s lead can take pretty much an entire season off. I think Dexter is a better example because, well that show’s called Dexter, it’s about this guy Dexter. And yet it’s filled with memorable characters who are all given their due.

But Dexter is nearly an hour long, ten to fifteen minutes longer than Awake, and without worrying about commercial breaks and content. But it’s similarly high-premise, and both shows are good. So why aren’t Britten’s wife or various detective partners as interesting as Mesuka, Angel, and even LaGuerta? Awake is also similarly plot-heavy, and it doesn’t have the time to breathe.

I guess it’s all about structure. And… networks. I give credit to a station like AMC, who evidently (well, clearly) has more balls than something like TNT: We Know Drama. Vince Gilligan’ll tell you that he had a great pitch with the folks at TNT for Breaking Bad, and the execs loved it, but knew they’d be fired if they greenlit this show about a man’s spiral into the drug trade. It’s not the direction the network’s going, and as long as there are other networks around, it’s not a big deal.

But NBC? They gotta keep moving, because all eyes are watching.

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This episode carefully balances a stand-alone premise, ongoing character and plot issues, and newly developing threads that tie into the themes of sanity and the mind. A hostage situation strikes a little too close to home for Detective Britten, as its being run by a schizophrenic who sees things and has, perhaps like Britten, created an elaborate narrative delusion. What we do know about our hero is that he’s having hallucinations and is beginning to lose track of his worlds, mixing up a phone bill and a permission slip in the same where his son hides a girlfriend in plain sight. It becomes up to him to diffuse this situation, all the while learning more about himself and these new problems.

What’s interesting about this episode is the concentrated focus, and BD Wong’s character interacting with Britten outside of therapy. We start to get more out of their relationship, and it was an interesting twist, though not nearly as shocking as the one at the very end of the episode.

Awake manages to maximize its medium, that of network drama and episodic narrative. It’s limited because dramatic beats must be measured to line up with commercial breaks, and you’ll never hear an organic ‘fuck’ or two in a tense situation, but by building on the situation and character, does well with the long running-time, the episode to episode structure. There is mystery and revelation, and the promise of more mystery and revelation next week.

The next episode airs 10pm Eastern Standard Time on Thursday, NBC

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Just as I was starting to lose faith that the show was going anywhere, a good episode like this happens. They address what I just mentioned in the last post, that sooner or later somebody’s going to catch on to the fact that he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

So far the strongest element of Awake, aside from its premise, are the premises from episode to episode. There are strong stories here told well, but there’s little time for character growth. Michael Britten’s been pretty much the same throughout, despite his situation, which worsens and changes constantly. That aspect offers compelling television, but Awake feels unconventional in that there are no jaw-dropping character moments. Unfortunately because of this Awake seems to fall short of a genuinely great TV show, but this is only the fifth episode, and as these reviews get shorter and less timely, the episodes get better.

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Another fine episode. It’s hard for any other TV show to really get me going right now, because I’m making my way through what might just be my favorite drama, an older show, and that’s difficult. But Awake is pretty good, it just isn’t eye-opening, ass-knocking-on-to. I like the formula, like the character, like that it deals in death and grief, something pretty rare in modern pop culture.

Britten runs into a familiar face, his son Rex’s old babysitter Kate. Only, he runs into her in both worlds, and she isn’t the same across the two. In the ‘red’ world, Kate is doing quite well for herself, and in the ‘blue’ one, she isn’t so much. It’s interesting and sad, and the things they’re doing with this dynamic seem novel each episode. The science-fiction elements may not add up to a show that really provokes thought like The X-Files, or TNG (as I hear) or even The Twilight Zone (to name three, unconnected scifi shows), but we’re still at the Lost-influenced mystery stage. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, but genuinely hope that in the second half of the season they get deeper into mythology and uncover more tools to play around with.

In this episode I also got a greater feeling that eventually Britten’s going to be investigated by his rookie partner, because in one episode it will be suspicious that he knew that thing, and that rookie seems to second-guess everything Britten does.

El next episode airs same time, same place. Be there, be not square

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