Perhaps it’s been a while since your DVR has had anything to do Thursday nights at 10pm, but beginning March 1 you’ll want to tune in to NBC for their highly anticipated new drama Awake. Starring Jason Isaacs, this incredible new show will have you addicted after just 10 minutes.

It is the story is about homicide detective Michael Britten who was in a car accident with his wife and teenage son. After the accident Britten finds himself alternating between two realities: one in which his wife survived the crash but his son perished; another in which is son survived but he lost his wife. While his life is similar in both realities there are important differences. He has two different psychiatrists, and 2 different partners. Britten falls asleep in one reality and wakes up in the other.  I was able to sit down and speak to executive producers Kyle Killen and Howard Gordon about the show.

Developing Awake

The show is not as complex as it sounds when you have to put the premise into words. While it may be one of those “you have to see it to understand it” situations, the show did a very good job of laying the cards clearly on the table within the first few minutes of the show. Killen and Gordon tell us that while there is a serialized plotline throughout, each episode is also fairly stand-alone. Unlike shows like Lost or Gordon’s previous hit 24, you can miss an episode without being completely lost, but trust me, you will not want to miss any episodes. 

How do you write for a show that has not just one detailed reality, but two without developing massive plot holes? “It’s been a trial and error… You’re telling a story that has two beginnings, two middles and two ends. In a way you have to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts,” states Gordon. They even took a hiatus from filming to rearrange some things before coming back to film the rest of the 13-episode season. The hiatus, the producers explain, was to fine tune what they had, purely because they had the time. Howard Gordon explains, “[The hiatus] was just because we could. We weren’t up against an air date and we had the luxury of doing it… Because we had the opportunity to make it as right as we could, we took it.” Both producers and the actors I spoke with agreed that whatever they did during hiatus worked because the scripts have been nothing short of brilliant.

Different Realities

In the show, Britten makes it clear that if making progress means giving up one of his realities then he has no intention on making any progress. While that is the central conflict of the series it isn’t the root. “He remains 100% adamant that he doesn’t want to give one or the other up. What we are really exploring in the first season is the price of needing to figure out what happened to him. How it was that he came to be in that accident means looking back at the very thing hes trying t avoid which is the issue of what happened and when you talk about what happened you risk knowing who lived and who died so the price of that knowledge is potentially an understanding of who’s real and who’s not. He’s conflicted about how much he wants to know and how much he needs to avoid knowing,” explains Killen.

Killen goes on to explain Britten’s different partners: “He’s got two very different partners. One is his long time, more-than-a-decade, trusted friend [played by Steve Harris]. The other is someone who has literally been brought in and promoted to watch him watch his behavior, report on it, make sure that he seems like he’s actually capable of continuing to be a police officer [played by Wilmer Valderrama]. Monitoring those two different things, those two very different relationships, and psychologically asking himself if one is real and the other is a dream why he would construct one or the other? Those are all things that the character is forced to confront and play with.” While the cases he works in each reality are different, they are in some way connected. Britten can use something he finds in one to help with the other. They are connections only he can make and it leaves his partners wondering about how his conclusions are drawn. “He pulls things off. The audience understands how he got from A to B to C, The people in each half of the world–they see gaps. They don’t understand how he made the leaps he made and he can’t always explain himself. That coupled with the stress and strain of trying to hold up these two universes and his increasing curiosity of the consequences of that about what happened to him that night. They all take his character in directions that people who as close to him as his partners can’t help but notice and comment on.”

Which Wold is Real?

Killen offered this: “We protect the idea that both are real. We’re playing what the character is protecting, which is the idea that there are always equally good arguments why either world could be real. That’s the thing he’s struggling to hold onto so that’s what we embrace. We treat them both like they are real.” Playing his psychiatrists are B.D. Wong (Law & Order: SVU) and Cherry Jones (24). Both are incredible and their characters go about treating Britten in a different way. Both determined that the reality they are in is the real one, and have different ways of trying to prove their theories to Britten.

Check out our interview with Jason Isaacs who is a little less shy about which reality is real>>

The pilot is available right now On Demand as well as right here on BuddyTV, but I urge you to tune into the broadcast Thursday March 1, at 10pm on NBC. The time slot may seem doomed after two shows have failed to find an audience there (Prime Suspect and The Firm) but I truly believe this show to be a winner. Let’s make the third time a charm. 

(Image courtesy of NBC)


Contributing Writer, BuddyTV