Awake episodes 1 & 2 reviews: Pilot & The Little Guy

It's very early days for supernatural police procedural Awake, but initial signs are promising...


This review contains spoilers.

1.1 & 1.2: Pilot & The Little Guy

Hearing that British actor Jason Isaacs would be starring in a sci-fi inflected crime drama in the US got a fair few people excited, and Awake‘s interesting concept contributed to making it one of the most anticipated new additions to this year’s mid-season schedules. Centred on a homicide detective, who, after being involved in a car accident, finds himself travelling between two opposing worlds (one where his son survives, the other his wife) as he sleeps/wakes up, the show has all the hallmarks of an intriguing mystery held together by a strong procedural structure.

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What we actually get is a lot like those predictions, but, as the first two episodes have demonstrated, things aren’t as clear cut as that. Understandably, the genre elements of Awake have received much more attention than the generic cop show trappings they’re wrapped in, but it looks as though the writers are taking the slow and steady path. There are sci-fi elements to the story by its design, but as it’s early days, the mystery surrounding the character’s condition, and the circumstances of the initial crash, are not the main focus on these first two hours.

Said mystery is described to us early on, as we follow Isaacs’ family man from one ‘dimension’ to another at the end of each day. We assume he’s living each calendar day twice, but the date is left a mystery to us in order to not overcomplicate things further. A red and green elastic band are used by him as shorthand for wherever he is, and the aesthetics of the show mirror this device. Subtle changes to the filters and hues of the episode show where we are, even when Michael is away from home solving a case. 

This is fortunate, as without a device such as this we might have been even more confused than we already are. I may be speaking as a viewer not overly enamoured with CSI and other police procedurals like it, but two homicides being solved by the same man, with family drama and therapy sessions thrown into the mix as well, may just be overkill. The facts get horribly muddled and we unwittingly switch the victims and criminals between realities, meaning that when facts and clues start to cross over in Michael’s mind, we’re still none the wiser.

Hardened crime TV fans might see things differently, and there’s certainly enough interest elsewhere to compensate. It’s interesting that we start in the middle of the story, and the show opts not to set up a happy, perfect, family life before the crash rips it apart. We can assume that the complete family was functional and loving just by witnessing the wife and son’s reaction to losing each other, and by following the man in the middle, his being pulled both ways feels real and genuinely heartbreaking. 

The very fact that this has been going on for a while actually deepens the story’s impact, as even Michael can’t figure out which is a dream and which is reality. Several events lead us to believe that both are real, so we’re either in parallel universe territory, or more people died in the car crash than Michael thinks. A scene at the end of episode two certainly suggests that there are people behind the crash who are now watching Michael, and a slightly sinister conversation injects some intrigue just in the nick of time.

Awake is a strange show, with no discernable hook to carry it from week to week. Like a normal crime show, there are cases each episode for Michael to solve, but the family drama in the interesting part that will bring viewers in, and it’s hard to theorise how those plot strands might play out. We can assume that things from both worlds will start crossing over more and more, and further details of the police captain’s connection to Michael will be revealed. Will the wife and son ever be reunited? We don’t know, but there’s enough here to sustain interest, at least until the sci-fi elements kick in a bit more.

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