First Impression: NBC's Awake Will Rouse You

The broadcast and major cable networks are debuting nearly two dozen primetime shows this winter. To help you sort through it all, TVLine is presenting a few First Impressions. Next up is.…

THE SHOW | NBC’s Awake (Thursdays at 10/9c, premiering March 1; watch pilot here)

THE COMPETITION | CBS’ The Mentalist, ABC’s Private Practice and Scandal (premiering April 5), FX’s Archer/Unsupervised

THE CAST | Jason Isaacs (Brotherhood), Laura Allen (Terriers), Wilmer Valderrama (That ’70s Show) and BD Wong (SVU)… Jason Isaacs, Dylan Minnette (Lost), Steve Harris (The Practice), Michaela McManus (Vampire Diaries) and Cherry Jones (24)… and Laura Innes (ER).

Save the Dates: March’s Big Premieres and Finales!

THE SET-UP | Isaacs is Michael Britten, a police detective who in the wake of a tragic car accident finds himself toggling between two realities: one where his wife Hannah (played by Allen) perished in the crash, and another where it was their son Rex (Minnette) who died. In sessions with his LAPD-assigned therapist (played alternately by Wong and Jones), Britten details this dual existence yet declines to accept the diagnosis that the other “world” is but a dream-slash-coping mechanism. Valderrama and Harris play Britten’s respective detective partners in his “red” (where Hannah’s alive) and “green” realities, Innes their police captain; McManus is Rex’s tennis coach.

More Winter TV First Impressions: ABC’s The River, NBC’s The Firm,
Showtime’s House of Lies, NBC’s Smash, Fox’s Alcatraz

THE PROS | Awake, as you might surmise, is not the easiest show to casually follow, but to make the effort is damn rewarding. The pilot, which is just this side of brilliant, economically lays the foundation for the dual narrative — including the added wrinkle of how Britten’s homicide investigations in either reality beget clues for the other. (For example, a parking space number translates into a critical street address.) Among the cast, Isaacs is excellent, rendering a character who is at onceAwake on NBC review besotted by loss and yet quietly satisfied to have stumbled upon a way to hold onto those he lost; similarly, Allen does well as a wife and mother struggling to move on yet hampered by her own forms of denial. Minnette at first seems saddled with TV’s favorite tired trope, The Angry Teen, but a pair of breakdowns (in the pilot and then Episode 3) flesh out the lad nicely.
    Of the first episodes screened, the pilot is tightly plotted and solid as a rock, No. 3 delivers a visceral and thrilling white-knuckle race against time, and the one that will air fifth addresses head-on a conspicuous question — namely, for how long can Britten pass off the otherworldly clues he gleans as mere “hunches”? — as well as introduces an element that threatens to unravel one of Michael’s existences.

THE CONS | Episode 2, while a serviceable follow-up, serves mainly to plant the seed for a larger mythology that at first blush risks seeming a tad contrived — though in the long run, it might give the series needed momentum. In the early going, conversations that Britten has with his shrinks (à la “You need to let go of your ‘dream’ reality”) and his partners (“You mind explaining this hunch of yours?”) grow a bit repetitive: fortunately, the therapy sessions are later used more sparingly and weave in other topics. Until you commit to memory a “Who’s who?” of the two realities, it can be easy to “lose your place,” though the show provides cues in the form of a red/green rubber band Michael wears on one wrist and an overall warmer visual tone to scenes in the “red” world.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | While Awake, when first reported on, was likened to Inception, I’d say Fringe is a slightly better comparison — it’s as if Peter Bishop switched universes each time he fell asleep and woke up. As such this is a show you must pay attention to, and in a world where inane fare developed to appeal to the LCD attracts the big crowds, I can’t help but worry about this smart and stellar drama’s prospects in a time slot that already this season has played host to two short-lived freshman NBC series. All we can do is hope for the best, and patience on the Peacock’s part.

Watch a video preview for Awake, then vote in our poll below.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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74 Comments
  1. Thom says:

    I watched the first episode on line. I’m not so sure about this. Was very confusing. I’m going to give it a try though and see how it goes.

    • Thom says:

      And one more thing. I’m not really trusting NBC at all on this. They get good shows and don’t give them enough time before they start moving them around or cancel them. The Chase, Prime Suspect, The Firm to name a few.

      • Julie says:

        While I certainly think it’s possible that Awake could be canceled before its time, I’m really hoping it’s going to get the ratings to convince NBC to keep it around for a while. I think they’ve at least done a pretty good job of promoting it; the early preview was a good idea, and I’ve seen the trailer appear quite a few times on television.

        • pennylane says:

          I’m totally excited about Awake. I also think that it can be difficult for NBC to trust in what they see as being a great show because they are not getting the ratings that others are getting but….it takes time t reverse a trend. NBC will do fine if they stick to a plan and do not toss everything out the window.
          It takes time to gain and audience. I loved Prime Suspect and it was very well acted directed and written and yet…it was pulled well before it could gain legs. I hope they give Awake a chance.

  2. Donna says:

    This Fringe fan loved the “Awake” pilot, and is glad to hear subsequent episodes are good too.

  3. IronB says:

    Poll is deceiving. I said “Absolutely, I’ve been looking forward to the show” when what I really want is a choice “Absolutely, sounds great and I’ve never heard of the show before this minute.”

  4. Kristi says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this and will definitely be checking it out. I am however stunned, that the premise of this show, while having enough originality of it’s own, hasn’t invited more (if any) comparisons to the UK’s “Life on Mars”.

    • Ben says:

      It does certainly have aspects that sound a bit like life on mars (minus the 70s aspect). That was a great show.

    • KD says:

      The first thing I thought of when I heard about this show was ‘Life on Mars’ although w/o the 70s and slightly more complicated. I loved Life on Mars and I’m not going to compare the two. I am really looking forward to this show.

    • Adriene says:

      Actually, the first time I heard of this show several months ago, it was compared to Life On Mars. That’s what got me interested in it.

  5. ScrubsGuy says:

    When you say “Not easy to follow”, do you mean that it’s not easy to follow if you’re paying careful attention and giving the show your undivided attention, or it’s not easy to follow if you’re watching while texting, cooking or doing something else while it’s running the background?
    Trying to determine if you’re saying it was badly produced or edited, or if it’s an audience attention span issue. Thanks!

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      I believe the overall tone of this review speaks to the quality of the production, but yes, “it’s not easy to follow if you’re watching while texting, cooking or doing something else while it’s running the background.”

    • Toni says:

      Good question! Having seen the pilot, it’s definitely the latter. You cannot cook, sort laundry or check your email while you watch this show. You have to pay attention. The good thing is, you’ll WANT to! It’s really interesting and navigating the two worlds is challenging and fun.

    • ultimate troll says:

      Tis a pity since ratings and revenue doesn’t seem to value viewers who pay attention any more or less than viewers who fell asleep after two and a half men. Or like CSI cuz they don’t need to watch every little thing that goes on.

    • Holly says:

      I saw the preview on demand. It’s not particularly hard to follow if you’re willing to pay attention.

  6. tvaddict says:

    Cannot wait! Hopefully this show won’t have as hard a time as Prime Suspect or The Firm.

  7. Rex says:

    Can’t wait for this one! Loooooove Jason Isaacs and thrilled that he’s back on TV. The loose similarities to Fringe are just icing on the cake for me!

  8. CMart says:

    I just can’t help thinking that the secret behind this whole show is that, when all is said and done, it was neither his wife nor his son that dies in the accident. It’s him; both narratives are not real.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      I have to say, not once in four episodes did I stop to theorize on why this is, but instead focused on enjoying the intricacy of the storytelling.

      • CMart says:

        Oh and I completely agree with you; I should have prefaced my first comment by saying that still I do plan to watch it and get totally into it. Just making an observation I had, probably caused by watching too many movies/shows with twist endings and all :)

    • Ben says:

      Possibly thats the answer. Possibly its not. But would that be a cheat? I think some would hate that ending for sure, but its not as bad as ‘it was all a dream’. Provided the show itself was top notch, I think I could survive with that ending. But – you just never know when the writers and producers of a show will come up with something unique and new. I think its possible to have a unique finish/reason for the premise.

    • dee says:

      Anyone seen the movie “Passengers”??

    • squander doodle says:

      Yeah, as long as people get into the journey this kind of storytelling doesn’t have to have a destination.
      There’s really only a handful of “answers” to the situation that are simple enough to not be nonsense and lots of people will love/hate them to varying degrees.
      1. He died.
      2. He’s in a coma and dreaming.
      3. One reality IS real, the other not so much.
      4. He is actually straddling two alternate realities.
      5. His plane crashed on an island with weird magnetic properties.

    • Tyler says:

      Except that the producers said, explicitly at TCA, that the end will not be “it was all a dream”
      And let’s be honest – if people are all guessing that now, I’m going to venture a guess that people are underestimating the genius of Howard Gordon and Kyle Killen.

  9. Timbo says:

    I watched the 1st episode on HuluPlus & was a little disappointed. I was expecting more from these Midseason shows like Alcatraz & Awake, but thinking maybe they held them back because they weren’t good enough or had flaws. Not confused at all, but seems like an impossible premise to bring to a satisfying conclusion. Either his wife or son is really dead, or he’s insane & they’re both dead, or he’s dead & in purgatory or something.

  10. Ebbie says:

    Awesome! Can not wait to see this. The pilot was fantastic. Malfoy Senior on my television is a welcome sight. Don’t screw this up NBC!

  11. Mónica says:

    I watched the pilot and absolutely loved it, Jason Isaacs was great and I didn’t find the plot hard to follow at all (the comparison with Fringe and its need of attention is a good one). The only thing I didn’t get was when the female psychiatrist gave something for Isaac’s character to read and used what he read as proof that he wasn’t dreaming, but I didn’t understand how that was proof. Anyone care to explain, please?

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      That took me a while to “get” as well, but here goes: If he was merely dreaming the “red”/wife alive/Cherry Jones reality, how could he have read the Constitution word-for-word if he had never memorized it?

    • Paul says:

      Hey Monica – the psychiatrist’s point was that as he was reading from the U.S. Constitution, she wanted to know if he had it memorized, which he said he did not. The fact that he was reading it word for word proved that either this was his reality or that he knew the Constitution so well that he could recite it in his dreams.

      • Ben says:

        I get it, because even a physical copy of the constitution in his dreams wouldn’t be real, unless he remembered off by heart what it said it wouldn’t be correct in his dream. *click*

      • Mónica says:

        “Click” indeed, thanks for explaining!

      • Gavin says:

        He doesn’t need to have memorised it. If he’s heard it or read it before then it’s in his mind subconsciously. The conscious mind forgets. The subsconscious/unconscious mind remembers EVERYTHING!

  12. Jim says:

    This show is not going to make it in a country where moron-bait like NCIS is tv’s #1 show. It’s simply too smart.

  13. Dani says:

    I have to say I’ve been looking forward to this for months, but I am worried that the network won’t do it justice. Great cast, especially Jason Isaacs who deserves more recognition than he’s currently got and I love the concept.
    As somebody else mentioned I suppose there is a slight comparison with Life on Mars, but without the time travel element it does seem to be a different beast.
    Fingers and toes crossed it does well!

  14. Liz says:

    You have me at FRINGE.

  15. Paul says:

    I watched the pilot and the only beef I had was with Jason Isaacs. I don’t know, I found his performance to be underwhelming. It wasn’t terrible but his character wasn’t memorable. Interesting plot and decent supporting cast, I’m hoping subsequent episodes prove me wrong.

  16. Alex says:

    I like all the Fringe comparisons…especially considering where Fringe’s ratings have been this season…
    I saw the pilot, I was afraid it would be a little abysmal, yet the tone seems really balanced and intriguing. Not a show that you could watch while doing something else, a show that requires a lot of focus to understand and keep everything straight.

  17. apor says:

    So David Sheppard vanished in Lost’s season 6 to reappear as the son on this show’s alternate reality. The premise sounds like Fringe/Lost combination, and I love both of those shows. However, I don’t think I’ll be watching this.

    • Ben says:

      I’m intrigued. If you love both of those shows, what is it that stops you from wanting to give this a go?

      • ultimate troll says:

        Get’s in the way of his/her full time job pointing out “Lost” casting connections.

        • apor says:

          I been discovered. Yes. I still can not let go of Lost.
          To answer the question as to why I will not watch this show. Simple. Flash Forward/ The Event. I don’t trust NBC to keep this show for a significant amount of time if it gets typical scifi numbers.

          • Ben says:

            While I enjoyed Flashfowrwards (especially after a few weeks) there is no doubt that both of those shows bungled some things – particularly some of their major casting. At this point, it seems like Awake hasn’t, nor their writers, and so I have hope and faith that NBC will give it a reasonable chance because of its quality. Of course, if it does get good ratings and a reasonable chance… you can always buy the DVDs later :)

  18. GGMustDie says:

    Actually, the show is pretty easy to understand when the pilot finishes. I really liked it, and I guess that Britten will fall for his son’s couch.

  19. kevin says:

    Awake has garnered a lot of buzz on the Internet and critics alike and it’s destined to be a breakout hit for NBC. Hope this series is going to put Mentalist out of CBS’ misery to improved big ratings in its debut March 1st and the weeks ahead. :)

    • Holly says:

      I mean, let’s be real here. No NBC drama is going to kill the Mentalist. And I doubt Awake will be a breakout hit. I really enjoyed the preview of the premiere, but I think NBC is probably hoping for sleeper hit at best.

  20. Dq18 says:

    My boyfriend and I got the pleasure of testing this show on a trip to Universal Studios last fall. We are so excited it is hitting the airwaves as we were really impressed at ou screening. Anyone who visits and gets asked to provide an hour of their trip should TOTALLY do it. I would all the time if I could. Hey Matt, hiring? :)

  21. Blondini says:

    Well, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this show (months not nanoseconds)and have seen the pilot 2-3 times (not while cooking, texting, folding laundry, sweeping, mopping, cleaning toilets, or studying-just watching and listening), it seems the more times you see it, the smarter it gets, or the more you catch..The casting is amazing; I’m sorry, I love Lucius but HE’S not here (note absence of elf), Michael Britten is here and the 2 characters couldn’t be more different (although Jason Isaacs, engine driver of both) is just so talented, but if you look around him is a teriffic cast of actors and writers/productors/directors. The big question is what is NBC going to DO with the golden goose they have in their hands? The show isn’t positioned very well unfortunatly, and they don’t have a very good track record lately. I think Awake will need some ARDENT fans to push NBC to give it a good long chance to let it see the light of day till next season and maybe move it to not be against ABC/CBS heavy hitters. And for heaven’s sake, it’s supposed to be entertainment (albeit thought provoking), stop with the guessing please. Lets just play the game with them. If ya want to write the scripts, ask Kyle if you can go play in the writer’s room. Thanks

  22. Jean-Jeanio says:

    I watched the pilot on Hulu, and I need to say that this was the first show from this season that I had been looking forward to that has not disappointed me immediately.

  23. curt lyon says:

    it IS well conceived and acted and, perhaps,written but in my opinion, this cant catch an audience. The characters are not really likeable and one doesnt care much what happens to them!
    Plus, sadly, viewers are more (here I go, losing my audience) likely to drop this one like Prime Suspect and watch moronic comedies like Happy Endings or New Girl (sorry, but those two are dreadful, actually, basing the characters on being quite stupid)

  24. Lola Grace says:

    I’ve already watched the pilot two times and I loved it! Could not disagree more with those who’ve said you don’t care about the characters. I was immediately drawn in by them all. It’s smart and well-done. Hands down my favorite thing on NBC since they cancelled Medium.

  25. Cath says:

    Hello to Jason Isaacs!

  26. Tiffany says:

    Loved this pilot. Nielsen Family America (because we all know they differ from “real America” :-P), don’t let me down on this! PLEASE watch this show and don’t make NBC cancel it!!

  27. Tim says:

    I won’t get attached to it since it’s on NBC. I really wish it was on USA or some network where it would likely fit smoother.
    It looks great and I’ll watch it (comparisons to Fringe/a few LOST and a Harry Potter character make me happy), but I’m just assuming it’s ratings will suck and it will be canceled mostly because it’s on NBC.

  28. Donna says:

    To all the people afraid NBC will cancel it prematurely: So what? If it’s a good show, it’s a good show. Do yourself a favor and grant yourself the pleasure of watching it and enjoying it while it’s here.
    People act as if “getting invested” in a good show is some horrible burden on their psyche which cannot be recovered if a network pulls the plug. I don’t get it. (“Well, it looks good, but gee, I don’t want to start watching it until I’m sure it won’t be cancelled” – which, of course, makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy…)

  29. YowzaPowza says:

    My main problem with this premiere is that there didn’t seem to be anything to hold on to in the long run. The premise feels rake thin and extremely gimmicky, so these types of things either work or they just don’t. If every episode he’s figuring out crimes in one reality but REALLY figured out the crime in another, that’ll just get old extremely quick. I actually didn’t think it was confusing at all. Based on this review, I’m glad it’s said that there’s something of a seed planted in episode two that’ll play into an overall mythology. Although I don’t see why that’s considered a con. It’s what this show needs.

  30. Matt says:

    I LOVED the pilot.
    However this show has three things going against it.
    1. It’s got a heavy mythology…AKA. It’s not a standard cop show or Jersey Shore.
    2. It’s on NBC.
    3. It’s an NBC show with a heavy mythology.
    Heavy mythologies kill shows (unfortunately). NBC kills shows. Put the two together, and its a recipe for disaster. I will continue to watch this show and hope for the best.

    • xav says:

      Pretty much. I’m going to wait until I know this isn’t going to end up a ‘Kings’ situation where the literal reason they cancelled a brilliant show was because “it doesn’t make for a good 30 second spot”

  31. Alienate says:

    Throw this in the same trashcan with Touched.

  32. A says:

    I watched a preview of this show and really liked it. I too fear it won’t make it past season 1 because it is too smart and yes, NBC doesn’t know how to handle good drama’s anymore. I just hope if they decide not to renew they at least tie up the episode nicely.

  33. Lorie says:

    I saw the pilot on demand, and I wasn’t disappointed. Luckily, it wasn’t “trippy”, like I expected. Jason Isaacs was awesome. It was easy to follow, well written and directed.
    I just don’t trust NBC to take good care of it.

  34. Lucia says:

    Just a little correction. Under “The Competition” you have Scandal as starting on April 15. It starts on April 5. April 15 is not a Thursday.

  35. Michelle says:

    I actually watched this on my Kindle yesterday (Thank you Amazon for the free preview!!) and really enjoyed it. I agree that, at times, it was a little difficult to follow which reality he was in, but after a while, you did seem to catch on. Like Matt said, the warmer hues reality was the one where Hannah was and the cooler (green) hues reality was Rex’s world. This show has great potential and I have already programmed my DVR (Private Practice is my Thursday show of choice to watch “live”) and will definitely be watching on my DVR catch-up day!

  36. Carol C says:

    I LOVE Jason Isaacs and can’t wait to watch the show tonight. Only hope that NBC will give it a chance.

  37. tarun99 says:

    The fact that it has Howard Gordon who has worked on 24,Homeland
    I know it’s gonna b awesome.

  38. Jared says:

    Awake was one of the best new shows I’ve seen recently! I’m really looking or ward to the rest of the season.

  39. Lauren says:

    I just watched the premiere of Awake and I have to say that I loved it. I did find it kind of confusing as to which crime went with which reality and I tried to keep looking to see what color bracelet he was wearing but I couldn’t always see it which made it a little hard to follow. But overall, I love the idea of the show and the pilot definitely got me hooked and the fact that Jason Isaacs, Mr. Lucius Malfoy himself, is in it is a definite plus. With NBC lately, I’ve been leery about getting into a show because it easily could be ripped away from me in a few weeks but I hope this one stays fresh and that people are watching.

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