Will viewers understand NBC's 'Awake'?

TV critics are very impressed with NBC’s upcoming drama Awake. And they also are a bit concerned. Will viewers be able to understand the show? And how will the drama progress week to week?

Awake is from Lone Star creator Kyle Killen and stars Jason Isaacs as Detective Michael Britten, whose wife and son died in a car crash. Or did they? His character switches between two parallel worlds, one where his wife survived the crash, the other where his son lived. He’s torn between these two frames of existence, and really doesn’t want either of them to go away. Also, he solves crimes, so there’s a procedural element too.

At NBC’s press tour event in Pasadena on Friday, one critic called the pilot “really beautiful” and another said it was “one of the best pilots on any of the networks this year.” But still: Is it too high-concept for a big network show?

“It is a fairly gettable concept once you sit down and actually pay attention to it,” executive producer Howard Gordon said. “And whatever learning curve there might be, we hope it’s a shallow one.” Then Gordon broke down the summary: “He’s a guy who goes to sleep, wakes up, he’s with his wife, goes to sleep, wakes up, and he’s with his son.  And so ‑‑ and he’s a cop who sees clues and details that crossover from one world to the next, and he uses that insight to solve crimes.”

Still, Killen noted that writing the episodes can be pretty tricky, comparing the process to “putting together a Rubik’s cube every eight days.”

As for how the season progresses, Killen said, “On a week‑to‑week basis, there is a self‑contained question and answer. There’s a puzzle every week.”

One critic asked Killen what he learned from his experience with Lone Star — which had plenty of critical fans too, but stumbled out of the gate.

“I think there were aspects of Lone Star that were more difficult to get a wider, broader audience interested in,” he said. “[The main character] was somebody that you couldn’t decide if you liked or hated, and I think that Britten’s dilemma is something that we’re not only sympathetic for, but somehow we want him to win.”

Also: Isaacs, asked the boilerplate question of what he has in common with his character, gave a refreshing answer: “None,” said the British actor. “He is tougher, sexier, smarter, cooler, faster, stronger, and more American than I am. I wish I was him — apart from the dead‑relative bit, obviously.”

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