Awake on Sky Atlantic with Jason Isaacs: Episode One Review

by Matt D

At the moment in America a lot of shows are waiting to discover whether they have been granted a second season or not and one of those programmes is Awake starring Jason Isaacs which debuts in the UK tonight on Sky Atlantic.

Isaacs plays Michael Britten, a police detective who in the programme’s first scene is shown in a car accident with his wife and son. We then see him at his son’s funeral along with his wife. He recounts this story to his confrontational therapist Jonathan Lee, about how he has been assigned a new partner, Efram Vega a rookie detective played by Wilmer Valderrama, whose new position is due to the fact that he is to report Michael’s state of mind to his superiors. When Dr Lee asks Michael what happens next he simply says – ‘and then I wake up.’

This is because Awake takes place in two separate realities. the other being in which Michael’s son Rex is still alive but his wife Hannah has passed away. In this reality his partner is his long-time friend Isaiah Freeman while Vega is still a uniform cop also in this reality he has more comforting therapist in the form of Cherry Jones’ Judith Evans. To help Britten determine which reality he is in he wears rubber bands on his wrists red when his wife is still alive and green when it is his son that has survived. To help the viewers out the ‘red reality’ is shot in normal tones while the ‘green reality’ is shot through a much cooler lens and out of the two it seems more like a dream.

The main theme of Awake is how do we deal with grief. Both therapists believe Michael is creating two separate realities in order to keep both of his loved ones alive, which to an extent is true but we also see how different it is losing a partner than it is losing a child. In the ‘red reality’ Hannah is trying to move on from Rex’s death by re-decorating the house, wanting to move to a new area and thinking about having another child. The ‘green reality’ sees Rex becoming more withdrawn at home resenting the fact his father is hardly around and taking up tennis the sport that his mother played when she was alive. Rex has also seemingly found a new mother figure in Tara his tennis coach, who briefly played doubles alongside Hannah and I believe may be introduced as a possible love interest for Michael in this reality.

Dr Lee also believes that Michael is trying to keep both of his family members alive as a result of the guilt he feels for his blood-alcohol levels being high on the night of the accident, despite his insistence that he hadn’t been drinking. In fact that leads us to one of the central mysteries of the drama namely what did in fact cause the accident in the first place.

Despite its complex concept at its heart, Awake is a cop drama as we follow Michael’s different cases in the two realities in the ‘red reality’ he is investigating a serial killer who is targeting cab drivers while in the ‘green reality’ he is trying to rescue a kidnapped child from the man who killed her parents. The way the main concept plays into the police procedural storyline is that each week a piece of evidence will tie-in with both cases in week one this was 611 Waverly which was both the address in which the first cab driver was murdered and a parking lot space linked to the child abductor. Both of Britten’s partners raise concerns about him using evidence from what they both consider to be dreams, but nevertheless they are able to apprehend the culprit in both realities.

Awake is hard to get to grips with straight away, as so much plot is piled on its hard to keep up. I personally would’ve done away with all the police investigation stuff in episode one and just have enough time to introduce the characters, however I understand that all the ideas needed to be represented fully in this debut. What this opener did was get us to grips with various relationships and characters as well who we could expect to see in each different reality. I think after you become accustomed to the idea of two separate realities then you will start to relax into Awake and appreciate the filmic style which helps you to realise which reality you are currently seeing. There are also some excellent uses of the camera – my favourite being where Michael is trying to track down the taxi driver killer – and we are able to see through his eyes. Key to the success of Awake is Jason Isaacs who is utterly believable as a man who is unable to grieve fully for one of his family members, as he isn’t aware which one has actually gone. In his hands the unbelievable nature of the plot seems like it could easily happen while at the same time he is able to convey a man that doesn’t want to move on from the death of his son and a father struggling to be a single parent with an unresponsive son. The rest of the cast members don’t really get much of a chance to shine here however I think both B.D. Wong and Cherry Jones were great as the two therapists balancing their styles perfectly in their separate realities.

The one problem I had was that I didn’t want either reality to be proved to be a dream, which I’m guessing is what will ultimately happen, as I wanted Michael to be with both his wife and his son. For most though Awake’s premise will be intriguing enough to keep them watching and as I’ve already mentioned there is the other mystery of what caused the car accident in the first place. Overall this is a well-filmed and well-acted drama that takes a while to get used to but has enough going for it to be a success. I’m just hoping it doesn’t get cancelled before it gets a chance to tell the story that it really wants to tell.

Have you watched Awake? If so what did you think? Leave Your Comments Below.

1 Comment

  1. crawfoc99 on May 14, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Awake is a wonderfully intense and gripping drama. I haven’t missed an episode to date. The characterisations get to you. Love the interactions between them in both of the realities. I too don’t want either of them to not be real.

    Brilliantly and cleverly written, acted with excellent production values. A real treat to watch and figure our.

Comments are closed.