Why AWAKE Is About To Become The Best Show On Television*

*For those who are still jonesing for something to fill the void in their life left by Lost.

Just to get past the nagging qualifiers, I’ve been hyping this show since the moment I heard the premise and saw the trailer for it (I won’t post it again here as I have been spamming the Complex for the past three months).  I have a nasty habit of doing this.  As a result, the sight of Chinese Democracy sitting on the shelves at Best Buy with a $1.99 price tag gives me stabbing pains in the abdominal area every time I go to pick up batteries.

You should probably also know that Lost is my current yardstick for network television excellence sustained over a long period.  Not that I think Lost is the greatest television show ever made, but it happens to be my favorite, and nothing has come along that provides that same anticipation of the next scene, the next episode, the next season…

Would I ever admit that I was positively biased going into a series?  Probably not.

One pilot episode in, I can tell you this:  Awake has the freshest premise to be introduced to network television in years.

It opens with a family in a small SUV tumbling down a Los Angeles hillside in the course of a horrific car accident.  The driver, Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), awakens the next day with his life split into two alternate realities: one in which his which wife Hanna died in the accident, and one in which he lost his son, Rex.

In both realities, the police department has mandated grief counseling with an appointed psychiatrist.  In the “red” reality, in which Hanna survived, the shrink is Dr. John Lee (B.D. Wong) and in the “green” reality, where Rex survived, it is Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones).  Each doctor is trying to convince Britten that the other reality is a dream constructed as a coping mechanism to deal with his grief.  The colors are denoted by rubber bands which Britten wears upon his wrist to “keep things straight.”

When he’s not having his head unscrewed, Detective Britten is investigating a pair of homicides, with a different partner in each reality.  While not CSI, I feel Awake manages to perform as a police procedural while delivering existential intrigue.  As the investigation unfolds, clues begin to overlap between realities, and it also becomes apparent that each of Britten’s partners is reporting back to headquarters on his mental stability.

Networks have been trying to find a replacement for Lost since it went off the air.  So far, I have been suckered into squandering time on each.  There was Flash ForwardThe Event.  Most recently, Alcatraz, executive produced by J.J. Abrams himself.  Of these, only Flash Forward exhibited any real potential to tantalize audiences over the long haul.  Unfortunately, audiences aren’t tantalized by potential alone.  Flash Forward and The Event were scrapped almost immediately.  Alcatraz is in its first season on Fox.

If you loved LostAwake has everything that you’ve been missing. Think the “We have to go back, Kate!” finale of Lost season three, and most of season four, with a liberal twist of the first season of In Treatment mixed in for good measure.

Awake exhibits the same sense of longing, as well as all sorts of hijinks with numbers and crises of conscience that Lost did, but there is more time to focus on character.  Awake is focused and tight where Lost meandered through a varied ensemble of characters.  There is palpable tension between Britten and his son, as well as his wife. Isaacs looks duly ravaged by both of his losses and the weight of his dual existence.  The show is cast and acted to perfection.

Late in the pilot episode, Britten’s partner, Bird, asks him, “Remember when you used to think ‘solved’ and ‘fixed’ was the same thing?”  This is the question that represents the undercurrent of Awake.

Get your fix today.  The pilot is now streaming on NBC’s website in advance of its March 1st broadcast premiere.