Tube Talk: ‘Mental Mobius strip’: ‘Awake’ debuts March 1 on NBC

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

It’s no secret NBC needs a hit. Soon. Yes, The Voice has brought NBC consistently higher ratings than it’s been used to lately, but one insanely popular reality show does not a network make. The Voice is a great platform for promoting new shows, though, like Awake, the new drama that premieres at 9 p.m., Thursday, March 1.

Yep. That’s the same timeslot where Prime Suspect and The Firm have already tanked this season. It’s a tough hour, which NBC owned back when ER was in its prime. Now, it’s dominated by CBS’s popular series The Mentalist, with ABC’s Private Practice coming in a distant, yet respectable, second. Let’s hope the third time’s the charm, and NBC allows Awake a chance to develop a following. After all, it’s a little much to expect an instant hit where so many other series have already failed.

Despite the competition, Awake is worth checking out, so why not help NBC out a bit by recording whatever you normally watch at that time on Thursdays and watching Awake?

The premise is intriguing: after his family is involved in a devastating car crash, a police detective, Michael Britten (the riveting Jason Isaacs, probably best known by Harry Potter fans as Lucius Malfoy) finds himself straddling two different realities. In one, his son died and his wife (Laura Allen, The 4400) survived, in the other his wife died and son (Dylan Minnette, Men of a Certain Age, Lost) survived. Each time, he wakes up in the opposite reality. He’s even developed tricks to help him keep his opposing worlds straight in his own mind.

What’s fascinating is he has a different department-appointed psychiatrist in each world, both assuring him he’s not dreaming, and their particular reality is the real one. BD Wong (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) is the more confrontational therapist — at one point saying Britten’s insistence on believing the other life is real is creating a potentially dangerous “mental Mobius strip” — while Cherry Jones (24) uses gentler tactics to convince Britten her world is the real one. One thing they do agree on is he needs to find a healthier way to deal with his grief than simply creating a dream life where the dead wife-or-son has survived.

The fun part comes when his worlds overlap. In one life, Britten is partnered with a seasoned detective played by Steve Harris (The Practice), in the other an eager new detective (Wilmer Valderrama, That 70s Show) is assigned to “babysit” the presumably unstable Britten. Details from a case in one reality can become clues to a different case in the other reality.

As a viewer, I found myself wondering if Britten disappears every other day in those two worlds, or if his days are consecutive in both realities. Perhaps that will be addressed in a future episode — if NBC allows Awake the chance to carve a niche in a competitive timeslot.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue

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