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Awake, Put to Sleep

NBC has canceled their new drama Awake. It’s too bad. I think Awake was the only new program from the past season I was still watching. (Terra Nova, Persons of Interest, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time all got dumped from your faithful TV Nerd’s schedule pretty quickly in yet another lackluster TV season.) However, I suspect the reason I liked Awake so much may be the same reason it didn’t take off with viewers. It was slow and overly thoughtful, but most importantly, it didn’t have a mythology.

In the story of a man shuffling between two realities, one where his son died in a car accident six months ago but his wife survived, and one where his wife died and son survived, Awake did an admirable job of avoiding the paranormal. There was no talk of mysticism, or the supernatural, or God/angels at work; no mention of aliens or scientific theories about parallel universes or alternate timelines. Awake played it entirely psychological. In fact, I was starting to suspect that neither reality was the truth, and that Michael Britten was dreaming all of this in his own post-crash coma. How else to explain the clues leaking from one reality to the other when Michael is trying to solve crimes during his day job as a detective with the LAPD?

Awake did falter in the one place where it followed time-worn TV tropes, though, and that’s with the shadowy corrupt-cop conspiracy that apears to have been behind the fateful car crash. Ho-hum, says I. It’s completely unnecessary in a show with its own built-in hook. I suppose they felt it needed something because otherwise there would be no forward movement, just the same switching back and forth ad infinitum, since any forward movement in the main situation would threaten to bring it to resolution (the same narrative problem that plagues Once Upon a Time and a thousand other high-concept TV dramas), but the whole conspiracy angle felt so by-the-numbers that I rolled my eyes through every rote “I want Britten gone!” scene. I would have been much happier with episodes like last week’s, where Michael found himself stuck in one reality with his wife and unable to reach the other with his son, and potentially forced to finally face up to the loss of his son in the accident. It was gripping stuff, I thought, but apparently not gripping enough. Ratings for Awake steadily declined since the premiere.

Two more episodes remain, and I believe NBC will be airing them this week and next week. I can’t imagine much will happen in them outside of the conspiracy nonsense and an annoying cliffhanger that won’t be resolved by a second season, but I’ll tune in anyway because I like the central conceit and want to see what, if anything, they do with it. But alas, I doubt there will be any closure or resolution before Awake closes its eyes for good.

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