TV review: Awake

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

I’ve seen them all, and the best network pilots in the last couple of years have come from Kyle Killen. He created Fox’s “Lone Star” in the fall of 2010 — which you probably don’t remember because it was sadly canceled after two episodes — and now NBC’s “Awake.”

Both were excellently written by Killen and directed by guys who usually work on the big screen: “Lone Star” by Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and “Awake” by David Slade (“30 Days of Night”).

Killen’s pilots also have two big questions in common: Will the complex premise find an audience, and can it sustain itself on a week-to-week basis?

“Awake” is the sad story of Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), whose wife Hannah (Laura Allen, “Terriers”) and son Rex (Dylan Minnette) died in a car accident … kind of. Michael wakes up in a reality where Hannah lived, but his son died. The next day he wakes up to find Rex alive and Hannah dead.

Each of these realities feels completely real to Michael, but his two psychiatrists say that’s impossible. Each insists, “This is not a dream.” Even stranger, Michael finds clues for the cases he’s investigating in both realities.

This sounds more complicated than it really is on screen — a credit to Killen and Slade — and the best television asks you to use your brain a bit.

The big question is, what’s going on with Michael? Is he crazy? Dead? Dreaming? But just watching Isaacs outstandingly show the grief and joy of both having and losing his loved ones is powerful on its own. We don’t need answers yet.

The police procedural stuff here is better than anything else on network TV, filling episodic needs while the mystery unfolds.


10 p.m. Thursdays on NBC

3.5 stars