x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The trouble with a double life is what keeps us watching Awake

With echoes of A Beautiful Mind, Awake delivers an emotionally complex drama about a tormented detective who lives in duelling realities.

Dylan Minnette, left, as Rex Britten, Jason Isaacs as Michael and Laura Allen as Hannah. Jim Fiscus / NBC
Dylan Minnette, left, as Rex Britten, Jason Isaacs as Michael and Laura Allen as Hannah. Jim Fiscus / NBC

Life can get mighty complicated. Just ask Detective Michael Britten, who finds himself living in two duelling realities - or parallel universes - after a car crash claims the life of his wife. Or was it his son who died?

The actor Jason Isaacs - best known for his roles in the Harry Potter films and Brotherhood - gives a compelling, nuanced performance as Michael, who awakens after the tragedy to two separate realities. In the first, his teenage son, Rex (Dylan Minnette), perished in the crash and his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), survived. In the second, Hannah is dead, leaving father and son to pick up the pieces.

"As soon as I read the synopsis for the pilot I thought to myself: 'If this show doesn't get picked up, I don't know what will' because it sounded so cool," says Minnette. "I read the script and I thought it was really, really cool."

In a premise that, emotionally at least, hefts the heart-rending gravitas of a Sophie's Choice scenario, Michael does the only thing a caring husband/father could do - to keep both of his loved ones alive, he embraces the duality and decides to live in both worlds until he can figure out what's real.

So in one, Michael and his wife debate having another child, while in the other, his son Rex tries to fill the motherless void by turning to his tennis coach, Tara (Michaela McManus).

"It's not a mistake that [Michael's] mind has come up with this [coping mechanism]," says Isaacs.

"He's a great cop, even if he didn't have these realities, he'd be a very good detective. He's not stupid. He knows somewhere he's making up one of the realities. He's not ahead of the audience at all. You have the adventure with him."

If you like your series intricate and tricky (attention all Lost fans!) then you'll find Awake a glorious mind-bender. But if you like your cop drama gently served over-easy, then you may find this critics' darling more like a migraine after a few episodes of twists and turns.

Even Michael wears different-coloured rubber bands - red and green - to give himself (and the viewer) a quick visual cue about which world he has just woken up in.

The creative mind behind all this inspired confusion is the Texan scribe Kyle Killen, whose previous short-lived 2010 Fox series Lone Star (oddly enough, about a Texas con man with two personas, two jobs and two spouses) was critically acclaimed.

In a bid for a new normality, Michael returns to solving crimes in both worlds, but with different partners in each: Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman (Steve Harris) and Detective Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama, formerly of That '70s Show).

Adding to the coolness of this premise, Michael soon discovers his dual existence is a detective's gift - he solves impossible cases; his two realities let him link clues that cross over from world to world. And, of course, it's hardly surprising that Michael has two shrinks - Dr Evans (the Emmy-winner Cherry Jones, formerly of 24) and Dr Lee (BD Wong). As both therapists work to untangle his two worlds, and as memories of the accident begin to haunt him, he's forced to face the truth about what really happened the night of the crash.

For fans who choose to stick with Awake until the season's end, Killen promises a sweet payoff with no cheats: "The one thing I will say the finale absolutely positively is not - like not even open to interpretation - just is not, is any form of: 'It was all a dream. Britten woke up, there was no accident, his wife and his son were fine. Nothing that you experienced throughout the season ever happened.'"

Awake is shown at 10pm on Wednesdays on OSN First HD