The Who, What, When, Where, And Why Of AWAKE’s Cancellation

 Or, why I’ll never be fooled by NBC again.

So, this is the last time that I will speak or write about Awake.  In fact, this might be the last time anybody issues any type of missive in regards to NBC’s most recent series cancellation.

To say that I had high hopes for Awake would be an exercise in understatement.  I’ve been slathering this show with praise since months before its premiere date was announced.  Now I will offer my reasons as to why I fell so hard for the show, and why it fell so hard once it aired.

Who is responsible for Awake‘s failure?

Well, it wasn’t my fault, that’s for goddamn sure.  And I’m pretty sure that it isn’t the fault of Kyle Killen, the series’ creator.  Killen had a novel concept for a series, which he equipped with a compelling structure.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

So who is responsible?

Jay Leno, of course.  I’m not kidding.  NBC will continue to fail in almost every attempt that it makes to take a step forward for as long as it wears the karmic albatross that is the on-again, off-again, on-again host of The Tonight Show around its neck.  Especially in the ten o’clock timeslot, where Jay staged the first wave of the coup that eventually brought him back to the job that he never really had to leave in the first place.

What kind of a show was Awake?  I went out for coffee.

Uh, yeah.  Herein lies the problem.  Awake was a cop show.  It could have been a show about forensic anthropologists or firefighters or travelling sword jugglers, but the braintrust behind the series chose to make it about a cop.

The cop is a homicide detective by the name of Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs).  At the outset of the show’s pilot episode, Britten and his family get into a car accident, after which his life is split into two alternate realities (Christ, this still sounds like a good idea, even as I’m typing this).  In one reality, only Britten and his teenage son (Dylan Minnette) survive the crash.  In the other, Britten and his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) are the survivors.  In each reality, Britten is not only consciously aware of the other, but is struggling to maintain his grip upon both.

After the pilot which, in my opinion, was the best to debut on network television since the masterful premiere episode of Lost, Britten struggles through therapy sessions that have been ordered by his superiors at the LAPD, with alternate therapists who have alternate theories as to Britten’s state of mind.

When was it all over?

Pretty damn fast.  In my opinion, you probably could have condensed the key elements of the show’s one and only season down to a hell of a Movie of the Week, if networks still tried to do that type of thing.

For me, it was all over around the beginning of Episode Four, entitled “Kate is Enough.”  In this episode, Rex flies off the handle when his buddy breaks his tennis racket.  Rex gets in a fistfight with his friend, which has to be broken up by their ultra-hot tennis instructor.

When Michael comes down to see what the problem is with his son, a quick discussion leads to the conclusion that Rex is simply having a difficult time coming to grips with the death of his mother, but it is never mentioned that poor young Rex might also be having a tough time coming to grips with the fact that he was kidnapped the week before by one of the men that Michael had worked hard to put behind bars.  That was in the prior week’s episode.  No mention of it.  After that, the series descended into a pattern of Michael using one reality to find clues to help him solve cases in the other.  The kidnapping episode turned out to be more or less disposable as far as the continuity of the show.

I call this the 24 problem.  If you track the continuity of Fox’s now-defunct 24, you will see that within the first few seasons, two seperate nuclear devices have been detonated in the state of California.  You will have to do a bit of research to confirm this piece of information, because it is never alluded to again in subsequent seasons of the series.  Two nukes.  One in Los Angeles.


Where do you plan on wallowing in shame and humiliation?

I live in Chicago, so right here, and in good goddamned company.

Seriously, I don’t feel I have anything to be ashamed of.  Sure, it might have been hyperbole to declare Awake the best series on television on the basis of a single, inspired pilot episode.  How was I to know Awake would trip all over itself by the end of its first month on the air?  You don’t wait eight weeks to write a review on a new series.  Especially if it’s on NBC.

Why did you fall so hard for Awake?

Mainly?  Because of this:

I believe this to be one of the finest examples of trailer sorcery yet produced.  Now, almost anybody who knows me will tell you that I am embarassingly susceptible to the siren cries of well-orchestrated hype.  Particularly when it involves a quiet, moody trailer.

So you can imagine that I was completely beside myself when, after a month ot two of posting and reposting the above clip, that the pilot episode managed to maintain that same level of melancholy over the course of the entire debut hour. Well, I couldn’t get to the keyboard fast enough.  Best. Show. Ever.

By the end of week two, I knew I had oversold it, and by the end of week four, I felt pretty much like an idiot.  Awake isn’t about to become the best series on television.  Awake isn’t even the best cancelled mid-season replacement series on television.

But it is cancelled, in this reality and the other.


  1. I really liked how conscious they were of colors, how his wife wore a lot of red and his son a lot of green, and how they used those color filters for each reality, like Soderbergh’s Traffic.  I also really liked how in the reality where his wife died, his partner Bird acted as Britten’s surrogate wife, and in the other where his son was dead, the foreign kid from That ’70s Show was his surrogate son.  I thought that was extremely well-played thematically.

    But then like you said, the show almost immediately went the route of prime-time hysteria.  His son’s kidnapped, their old babysitter’s a junkie, all that stuff.  Everything’s like Go Ask Alice.  Plus, though things have yet to be completely settled as I write this, the reasons for Britten’s condition/situation so far seem to be pretty banal.  I dunno if all that’s network interference or what.  I’ll be checking out Kyle Killen’s next project, so we’ll have to wait and see then, I suppose, if he’s any good or not.

  2. Listen you’re right and you’re very wrong. Yes they screwed up with the procedural aspect of the show, but the show drastically changed in episode 11. You need to go watch episode 11 “Say Hello To My Little Friend” right now. They found their footing delivering one of the most emotionally satisfying episodes of TV ever. The continuity is back and returned somewhere around episode 7 on. Episode 12 was one of the coolest most thrilling episodes of TV ever as Britten starts using his ability to get revenge on the people responsible for the accident. Maybe a bit late, but this is one of the best shows ever.

  3. People would just rather watch reality tv so they don’t have to think!

  4. More than a bit late, if the show got axed.  You’re right, it’s definitely picked up, but it’s a shame they couldn’t have found their footing sooner.

  5. I think when I watch reality TV!  Mostly, I think, “I want to kill myself now,” but still…

  6. I couldn’t agree more. It shames me to think that our entertainment has stooped so low. I canceled my cable because of this. I don’t want to pay for trash. 

    As far as Awake goes; it’s probably been the best show I’ve watched in a very long time. To take such an original idea and apply it to a plain and boring genre like cop drama is genius. It’s a shame that NBC is just a lemming like every other network out there. Once again, they sell out because of ratings and viewing numbers (even though that’s what it has always been). It’s not even NBC’s fault completely. The majority of the problem has to do with those reality TV loving morons that have turned prime time television into absolute trash for anyone with an IQ above room temperature. Great job America… Great job. 

  7. Well, in theory, I agree.  No one’s ever gone broke underestimating public taste, after all.  But I have less of a problem with that than I used to.  The fire’s gone out of my belly, I suppose, but I also think Awake didn’t do itself any favors by letting the truly original idea it held at its center carry the whole show.  That is to say, once they came up with this concept, they threw it at the same old boring formulaic cop show stuff they had laying around.  I mean, if you’re gonna have a show so unique in its plot, why not spread that uniqueness around a little to the sub-plots you build each episode around?

    I think the sad case of Awake is the end result of a lot of missed opportunities.

  8. My feeling, which maybe didn’t come through well enough in the piece, is that the show may have worked better without the cop element.  I feel the procedural aspect bogged the whole thing down.  A man trying to figure out his life would have been an interesting enough investigation without all the criminal stuff.  
    Of course, it wouldn’t have mattered if the show was Nobel Prize material, because it was on NBC, the tree-falling-in-the-forest network.

  9. This show was fng amazing to me and my gma. i really dont understand why the f they cancelled it! i couldnt wait to see what happened, but i guess nobody will.

  10. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason Awake got cancelled is because of Lost.  People are just so sick of waiting for the “series mystery” to be solved, and there was just flat-out no progression towards that end anywhere in the series.  In fact, they kept digging a deeper and deeper hole establishing that there were numerous overlaps in each reality, which Britten used to solve cases, particularly in the most recent episodes, like the computer file and its password.  The deeper they develop the mystery, the less chance they have of giving the viewer a reasonable explanation.

    I feel like the TV viewing public just doesn’t want to wait season after season for a failure of an explanation that just obliterates the suspension of disbelief, because, let’s face it, TV show writers have proven they have no idea where the next 6 episodes are going to lead them let alone the next 2 seasons, and what the execs and producers will want to change about the characters, storyline, and plot of the show overall.

  11. But that’s what keeps it so interesting! Loved Lost and loved this show.  If the networks want us to keep watching tv they need to provide shows for those of us without short attention spans.

  12. Episode 12 was fantastic…I don’t want the show to end…just when it’s getting really, really good, it’s gone?? I want to know what happens next… I don’t watch a lot of TV & I hate garbage like reality (smut) TV… it was refreshing to have an intelligent & pretty original show (finally) to watch. I guess in a world of average intelligence (& lower) good TV just doesn’t stand a chance. I’m saddened that it has ended.

  13. I loved this show a great deal as well.  Concept was intriguing, storylines were fairly well written, etc.  

    However, the real reason I came back each week can be said in two words:  Jason Isaacs.  He gave in this series one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen on television.  We’ve seen gritty cops before, but his multi-layered portrayal of both a seasoned veteran and a man going through a traumatic loss kept me deeply engrossed and emotionally involved.  His struggle to find a path forward amid conflicting realities was both gripping and deeply human.

    My frustrations year after year with TV networks’ programming decisions continues, but kudos to the show’s creators, actors, and crew.  Keep the faith and never stop trying to bring us viewers your best.  We see the talent and effort, even if the suits are clueless.

  14. I just started watching this show through hulu. When I first heard about it I wasn’t excited but when I began watching I was hooked!!! I wish Netflix would pick up Awake! I hear they are interested in picking up cancelled shows – fingers crossed!

  15. Completely agree about Isaacs.  Hopefully he’ll land on his feet and we’ll get to see more of his work soon.

  16. I happen to be able to see the upcoming episode before it airs tonight (don’t ask how), and I am telling you that you are in for the ride of your life.I am writing to you specifically, Josh Converse, because it seems you are bailing out on the show now that NBC bailed on it. Well I say stand true to your convictions. You were not wrong when you backed up this show and spoke of it profusely. It is and was worth your pen and ink. NBC is the one who made a mistake, not you for believing in the show. It is a pity that they cancelled it. The last episode (Turtles…) was fantastic, and I think I’m going to watch it again. If ever there was a great finale, it’s this show. Maybe Kyle Killen knew this was coming and planned this, cause I can’t see this as a rush job. It was well done and I feel closure. It reminds me of Terriers in that, even though you didn’t want it to end, yet you feel a sense of satisfaction with the end. NBC made a grave mistake, and unfortunately they are not going to learn by this mistake and I’m sure are going to make many again. So long Awake, and Jason Isaacs. You will be sorely missed. 

  17. Josh, you remind me of someone who fell in love with a beautiful woman, and everybody else said the woman was ugly, so the boyfriend started believing it too. You fell in love with Awake, cause it was good, and it still is so. Don’t be fooled by negative remarks or by NBC’s pulling the show. Defend it, cause it was well played. Sianara.

  18. Awake is more like meeting a beautiful woman who is a lot of fun the first few dates, but then turns out to be kind of a dullard.

  19. Jimmy that’s not true. If you watch the finale I’m sure you’ll think differently. This show was never dull and always interesting, not mindless dribble like some other shows.

  20. A brilliant series with an outstanding cast and NBC succumbs to a public that has dumbed down!!! The majority of Americans are incapable of being entertained if they are required to think… People want to be hit over the head with the obvious dribble… I am so disappointed!!!!!!!

  21. Look I consider myself something of a critic in that I only watch quality tv shows with a decent storyline and well defined characters.
    I was in tears in the last episode, it might not have been the best ending, but the fact is that viewers cared about the characters.
    That is something you don’t usually get, if nothing else

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