How can a man choose one reality over another when either choice would result in hell?

That’s the impossible question underlying Awake. Two worlds exist. Maybe one is a dream. Or maybe the two worlds are each as real as Awake makes them. Real or not, Awake is one of the strangest and most amazing flights of fancy that television has ever brought us.

Awake begins with a simple enough concept. Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) and his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) were in a deadly car accident. One of them died.

But who? Michael Britten gets two different answers — from two different worlds — every time he shuts his eyes. In one world, Hannah survived the crash, but Rex perished. In the other world, the situation is reversed, leaving Rex alive to grieve for his mother.

These alternating worlds make life complicated for Britten. Neither of his two police department-mandated therapists (played by B.D. Wong in Hannah’s world and Cherry Jones in Rex’s) believes that the alternating worlds are more than delusional dreams. Meanwhile, Britten is back at work with two different partners, the inexperienced but eager Richard Vega (Wilmer Valderrama) in one world and Michael’s old partner Michael “Bird” Freeman (Steve Harris) in the other.

Want to watch Awake now? Click here to view the full pilot episode.

If Awake were a lesser show, it would be simple for the story to descend into endless questions of reality. That’s intriguing, of course, but not enough to carry a series. Fortunately, Awake is one of the best shows to hit network television in a long time and has so much more to offer.

The show is in many ways a straight procedural. Britten investigates parallel cases every week, often finding clues in one life that solve crimes in the other life. But it’s also a personal drama, and we soon care about the survival of both Hannah and Rex. Beyond the pilot, there are also hints of a long-arc conspiracy — a conspiracy that may or may not connect to Britten’s strange experience.

All of this is tied together by the threads of Michael Britten’s two realities. Is anything real? Is everything? While Awake pushes the idea that somehow Britten has kept his two loved ones alive, questions of reality and sanity always hang over the story.

Because of all this, Awake totally works as a series. The pilot is great, but later episodes are even better.

Awake is a difficult in a lot of ways. It’s not just the bizarre format (made simpler by the use of yellow-tinted lighting in one world and blue-tinted lighting in the other) but even the emotions are difficult. What if one of the worlds is not real? Are these completely realistic, involved characters actually dead? If you’ve ever lost a loved one, there is a real danger of tears at some point while watching Awake.

On a cable network, Awake would be a huge hit. There is no question of that. Will it work on a major network? The answer is about as complicated as the premise of Awake — we might get the reality of a successful show or we might be left with only the dream of what could be.

Let’s hope it’s reality. Awake is far too good to be lost to the hell of poor network ratings.

(Image courtesy of NBC)

Laurel Brown

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Laurel grew up in Mamaroneck, NY, Grosse Pointe, MI and Bellevue WA. She then went on to live in places like Boston, Tucson, Houston, Wales, Tanzania, Prince Edward Island and New York City before heading back to Seattle. Ever since early childhood, when she became addicted to The Muppet Show, Laurel has watched far too much TV. Current favorites include ChuckModern FamilySupernaturalMad Men and Community. Laurel received a BA in Astrophysics (yes, that is possible) from Colgate University and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies and History of Science from Columbia University before she realized that television is much better than studying.