|Dead reckoning for Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs). Pics:BSkyB|
Sky Atlantic: starts Friday, 4 May, 10pm
Story: Detective Michael Britten is driving with his wife and son in the car when they plunge into a ravine. He survives the smash, but finds himself living in two separate realities, with his wife alive in one existence, and his 15-year-old son in the other.
Awake is a crime drama mash-up with The Twilight Zone. Jason Isaacs, one of the new breed of Brits successfully hoovering up leading roles on both sides of the Atlantic, plays detective Michael Britten, who, following a fatal car smash in which he is the driver and his wife and son are the passengers, finds himself caught between parallel existences.
In one life, his wife is with him; and in the other, it is his son who survived. He wears differently coloured wristbands so that he can tell which reality he has woken up in each morning. In both, he has the grief of his surviving family member to cope with, but the irony is that he has time with each, so his own grief is diluted.
|Hannah, Michael and Rex|
The story uses the clever device of having Britten talk to a different psychiatrist in each life. ‘You don’t know whether you’re awake or asleep,’ says one of the shrinks. Both think Britten is fantasising about his dead family member as a coping mechanism against his grief.
Dual life gives Britten the edge as an investigator
The irony is, of course, that Britten does not want to ‘wake up’, because that would mean losing his wife or son. ‘I’ve got no desire to make progress,’ he says.
Further problems confront him. Wife Hannah wants to move to get away from their son’s empty room, while his son, Rex, is withdrawn and uncommunicative after losing his mother.
This being a mainstream drama from NBC in the US, it is standard practice in such pilot shows to pack in as many dramatic dilemmas as possible to keep folk hooked. So, Britten has the additional conundrum of noticing connections between cases he is investigating in each parallel life.
Jason Isaacs – tough but vulnerable
Why does he notice the address ‘Waverly 611’ in his other life? Could the perpetrator of a child kidnap in one life also have red hair, like the murderer Britten’s caught up with in his parallel world?
This starts to give the detective hunches, which raises the suspicions of colleagues. One says on arrival at a crime scene they’ve already investigated, ‘Why are we here?’ To which Britten says vaguely, ‘Because I had a dream about it.’ Another detective says, ‘Been a cop for 20 years. Only seen hunches on TV.’
The pilot does a terrific job of opening up a host of interesting dilemmas for Britten, and Jason Isaacs is excellent as a man in turmoil, tough and charismatic but showing the vulnerability he portrayed so well in BBC1’s Case Histories last year.
Awake, which was created by Kyle Killen (Lone Star) and Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24) is complex but intriguing. Jason Isaac’s cop chasing happiness over sanity is the most juicy high concept show since Life on Mars.
The crime stories in the opener are shallowly done, being shoehorned in with so many other story set-ups for the series, but it will be interesting to see how well Awake can maintain the fantasy. The series has confused US audiences – a further twist comes in episode two, that is then ignored, and the show already has plenty going on with the dual realities.
If the series goes down the same route as Lost, piling on tedious twists and obscure mysteries to entrance a small band of devotees, then Awake will turn into Asleep.
Cast: Jason Isaacs Michael Britten, Laura Allen Hannah Britten, Steve Harris Det Isaiah ‘Bird’ Freeman, Dylan Minnette Rex Britten, BD Wong Dr Lee, Michaela McManus Tara, Wilmer Valderrama Det Efrem Vega, Cherry Jones Dr Evans