Awake – Pilot
Opening in media res is confusing at the best of times, that is after all the basic point of the mechanism, but here it is an especially risky move. Simply throwing us into a story such as this instead of allowing us to experience it alongside the protagonist exacerbates all of the problems that people will have entering into, let alone following along with Awake’s central concept, but it somehow feels all the braver for it and given the easy execution elsewhere this brashness is probably necessary. Besides, getting right to the point is probably something that Kyle Killen will forever find himself doing after the remarkably quick killing of his last program Lone Star. If you’re sitting here wondering just what the hell it is i’m talking about then you actually already know all about it; in this way the pilot is instantly akin to this paragraph, now to the part where we eventually explain.
Awake is a very high concept show about a man who has a car accident and then finds himself flickering between two alternate realities: one in which his wife died and on lived, the other an inversion; each feels equally real to him in the moment, but one is ultimately a dream…probably, I mean that part is the mystery of the show. Seen in a vacuum, missing the prescience provided by promotional material, this premise would be particularly difficult to explain and so the show almost doesn’t bother; if you go into this show it’s expected that you’ve read the synopsis and given the way the world now works that’s probably not an unreasonable thing to think. Now that’s not to say that it doesn’t spend a lot of time setting the story up, in fact I would go as far as to say that this is basically all the pilot does, but there is an urgent pace to it that I really appreciated. The way that this guy is already so open about his situation is such a relief; Laura Allen is surely the best ‘wife type’ on TV for this reason alone.
What ultimately allows Awake to get away with this blatant disregard of the layman is the stunning direction by David Slade. He gets all the great shots that one would expect from a top-tier TV director but more importantly he develops an intrinsic visual style for future episodes of the show to follow, one that serves as a sort of legend for depicting the different worlds. He does this in a number of different ways, from a simple change of camera filter through to the establishing of an intricate color code – green is seen all throughout his sons world while red permeates his wife’s – that is executed so well we are even able to follow when they twist it this early on. The Trent Reznor-esque score that externally accompanies his shots and both the strong script and performers within them mean that on a scene by scene basis Slade shouldn’t have had to work too hard to achieve such results.
That is the good side, though both unfortunately and befittingly this show has another. Kyle Killen has spoken to the fact that he essentially concocted this concept as a way to recycle the themes and thoughts that he had lost a medium for with Lone Star; only this time he was wise enough to include a police procedural element besides them so that people would actually watch this time and that is where Howard Shore steps in. He does a decent job of depicting this element but was in a difficult position to begin with because though this may be what draws us in, the second we actually start watching the show we’re not going to care much about the case when there is a conceit as juicy as this one at play. There are some times when the show intertwined the two together quite well but mostly we just want to get back to the therapists couch and dive into the details of this mans dual life. The show seems to oblige this wish by making the procedural sections brisk but this only serves to make them shallower and thus even less interesting.
So structurally this show is in an interesting place; I for one hope that it either embraces the cop stories and treats them seriously by throwing them some serialization or eventually cuts them out entirely rather than attempt to maintain this balance. There is no way to know which direction they will take though because it is unclear at this stage just whose show this really is, you may have noticed I mentioned a lot of names in this review and with the subsequent introduction of a writers room this list of cooks and contributors will only grow, and don’t even mention the studio. So there is a good chance that this show will become muck as it continues, torn apart in too many different directions, or that it will spin off in one incorrect one; there are so many ways that Awake could go wrong in the future – that is if it even still exists then, which based on NBC’s status and Kyle’s record is not a safe bet – but so far it has got a lot really right and so i’m trying not to get pessimistic. Keep it coming Killen.