Critics are praising Awake, NBC's maniacally-promoted new drama for its ambitious premise and makes-you-think plot. But does the show, which premieres Thursday, make you think too strenuously? Awake centers on an LA cop named Michael (played by Jason Isaacs), who survives a car accident in which either his wife or his teenage son has died. When he recovers consciousness after the accident, he appears to live in two different realities. One day, he wakes up to find his wife alive and his son dead. But the next morning, the situation is reversed. The two realities alternate from day to day, and neither Michael nor the audience can tell which is real and which is a dream. (Watch a preview below.) Are strong reviews enough to hook audiences, or will Awake crumble under the weight of its own complexity?
It's intriguing enough to find an audience: Awake may be the "most complicated narrative since ABC's Lost," says Tim Molloy at The Wrap. But it's still "the best new show of the season." Viewers, captivated by the question of which world is real, will find both so compelling that they "won't want to lose either one." Too bad the show grows ponderous when it abandons the who's-alive-and-what's-real mystery so Michael can solve each episode's police case. But overall, Awake "lives up to the promise of [its] ambitious concept."
"Awake is the best new show of the season"
But can it keep that audience? In 2012, people are attracted to TV they can watch while multitasking, says Linda Holmes at NPR. Someone can return to an episode of Jersey Shore after leaving to do the dishes and check Facebook without missing a thing. And in standard crime procedurals, the lead characters tend to recap and explain "what everything means the moment it happens." Awake is far less helpful. Though anyone "who wants television to be more thoughtful and imaginative" should check it out, be prepared to watch it as if it were a movie requiring full attention.
"Awake, multitasking, and what it means to be complicated"
The show is too confusing for its own good: Awake's pilot introduces an undeniably intriguing premise, says Robert Bianco at USA Today. But the three episodes that follow needlessly pile more complications on top of it. A baffling conspiracy surfaces, new characters muddy everything up, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of the two worlds or remember why you liked the show in the first place. "No one wants to return to the color-by-number plotting of Diagnosis: Murder," but that doesn't excuse Awake for "demanding too much effort from an audience without sufficient reward."
"It's too bad Awake doesn't rest easily"