Make sure you have an extra-large cup of coffee and take a nap Thursday because sleeping through “Awake” is simply unacceptable. NBC’s newest drama is mysterious, psychological, heartfelt and completely worth your time.
“Awake” is about detective Michael Britten (Jason Issacs) who finds himself living in two realities following a fatal car accident. In one reality, his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) survived the crash and his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) died; and in the other, his wife dies and his son lives. Issacs, arguably best known for his role in the “Harry Potter” films, masterfully balancing each reality with nuance and believability. Britten has a hard time keeping the worlds separate, and often he does not know whether he is awake or not (hence the show’s title).
It is easy to get confused watching a show that seamlessly switches between realities, but the showrunners have solved this potential problem: color becomes the saving grace. Britten wears colored bracelets to keep himself and the realities straight, and the cinematography matches. With Hannah, he wears a red bracelet and the scenes are full of warm reds, yellows and oranges. With Rex, he wears a green bracelet and the scenes have a deeper greenish-blue hue. This device does not seem heavy-handed, but truly helps the audience avoid whiplash between scenes.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show are Britten’s therapy sessions where he has different therapists in each reality. In the red reality, his therapist is Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong) and in the green reality, Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones). Both therapists believe he has constructed another world as a coping mechanism for his grief. They also swear to Britten their reality is the real one. In the pilot and teaser trailers, Dr. Evans said, “I can assure you Detective Britten, this is not a dream,” and Britten replied with, “That’s exactly what the other shrink said.” In that one exchange, we begin to feel Britten’s quiet struggle and his inability to trust his own perception.
Only five episodes have aired so far, but they have all been fantastic. Without giving too much away, it has become increasingly apparent that Britten’s life is only going to get more complicated throughout the season. The realities are overlapping and Britten’s confusion is steadily growing. This show has only scratched the surface of its potential.
“Awake” airs on Thursdays at 10 p. m. Please wake up and watch this show. I promise it will be worth the yawns Friday morning.