I’m not sure how long it’s been on Netflix Instant, but I just noticed over the weekend that one of the best canceled-too-soon series in recent memory has turned up, and I think we need to start beating the drum on NBC’s Awake, a little-seen, sorely underappreciated mid-season replacement series on NBC back in the Spring of 2012 that came and went, sadly, with little fanfare. It deserves, at the very least, a second-life and, hopefully, a cult following on Netflix.
From Kyle Killen — the brains behind the Fox series, Lone Star, which was unceremoniously canceled after two episodes several years ago despite one of the best network pilots in recent memory — Awake is another show about a guy living two lives. Only, unlike in Lone Star — where our boy James Wolk (Mad Men’s Bob Benson) was literally living two separate lives — in Awake, Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is living two separate realities. After a tragic car accident, Britten finds that in one reality, his wife survived the car crash, but that when he goes to sleep, he wakes up in another reality where his son survived the car crash. The catch? Britten has no idea which reality is real and which is a creation of his mind and neither, for that matter, does the audience.
Much of the series followed a familiar procedural format, where Britten would find clues in one reality to solve case-of-the-week homicide investigations in another reality, but the show really excelled when it focused on the series-long arc, specifically the conspiracy behind the cause of the car crash that left him in his current state. Britten also sees two therapists, one in each reality, and both try to convince him that the reality he’s in is real, while the audience goes back and forth wondering which world is real and which is a dream (or if both are some form of the afterlife).
Critics — or at least the ones that watched and stuck with it — were big fans of Awake during its 13-episode run, and for good reason: It was a novel wrinkle on the standard network procedural format, and Jason Isaacs was goddamn brilliant in the lead role. Laura B. Allen, who you’ll likely remember from Terriers was also outstanding as the grieving mother and wife, fighting to move on with her life. Even That 70’s Show‘ Wilmer Valderrama did solid work as Britten’s new partner in one of the realities.
The show, unfortunately, never fared well in the ratings (another casualty of the demise of NBC’s Thursday night, especially after the disastrous Jay Leno experiment) and Awake was canceled after only one season. However, Kyle Killen — who likely did not anticipate a clever, creative and challenging drama would get a second-season renewal — ended the season/series in a way that was completely satisfying. In fact, it was so well done, it was hard to imagine a second season could top it. In a way, the 13 episode order almost felt right, like it was a show designed for exactly that many episodes, and now that it’s on Netflix, it’s a phenomenal, self-contained season perfect to bridge the gap between Breaking Bad episodes until the fall.