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Awake (TV series)

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Created by
Kyle Killen

Original language(s)

Final episode date
24 May 2012


Country of origin
United States

First episode date
1 March 2012


Awake (TV series) wwwgstaticcomtvthumbtvbanners8677157p867715

Crime drama Fantasy Thriller

Jason Isaacs Laura Allen Steve Harris Dylan Minnette BD Wong Michaela McManus Wilmer Valderrama Cherry Jones

Reinhold Heil Johnny Klimek

Jason Isaacs, Dylan Minnette, Laura Allen, Wilmer Valderrama, BD Wong


Awake is an American television police procedural fantasy drama that originally aired on NBC for one season from March 1 to May 24, 2012. The pilot episode had an early release on Hulu on February 16, 2012, two weeks before the series' premiere on television. The show's central character is Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), a detective who works for the Los Angeles Police Department. Kyle Killen, the series' creator, was primarily responsible for the program's concept; although he served as a writer, he avowed that writing episode scripts was difficult. Killen also served as an executive producer (with David Slade) of the pilot episode. Jeffrey Reiner and Howard Gordon then continued producing (with Killen) for Gordon's Teakwood Lane Productions.


Michael lives in two separate realities after a car accident. In one reality (where he wears a red wristband), his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) survives the accident; in the other reality (where he wears a green wristband), his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) survives. Michael does not know which reality is "real" and uses the wristbands to differentiate between the two. He sees two therapists: Dr. Jonathan Lee (BD Wong) in the "red reality" and Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones) in the "green reality". At work, Michael's erratic behavior triggers clashes with his team; they do not know about Michael's uncanny ability to solve crimes using details from both realities.

Awake averaged 4.8 million viewers per episode, ranking 125th in viewership for the 2011–12 season. A critical success, Awake's cast was praised (particularly Isaacs' performance as Michael). On May 11, after 11 of the 13 produced episodes had aired, the show was canceled due to low ratings, although NBC aired the remaining episodes in the series' original time slot. Fans of the show created a "Save Awake" campaign to convince networks to revive the show, which was unsuccessful. Awake has been nominated for one award.

Awake season 01 promo


Killen (the series' creator) devised the concept of the program, described as a "police procedural about the life of a detective experiencing a parallel universe after a car accident involving his family." NBC picked up the pilot episode of Awake in February 2011, and green-lit production of the show (originally entitled REM) in May.

Killen previously created the American television drama Lone Star (2010) for the Fox network; it was canceled by the network (due to low ratings) after two episodes had aired. Jennifer Salke, president of the NBC entertainment division, encouraged Killen to develop a concept for a future television series after the cancellation of Lone Star. Killen said that the duality concept of Lone Star provided him with a good platform to explore new ideas for a potential television show. He felt that Awake had a concept similar to that of Lone Star, and wanted to continue the idea of living in "two spaces".

Killen drew inspiration from the dreaming process: "The concept of the way your dreams feel real, the way you seem to experience them as something that you don't blink at until something crazy happens that sort of bursts that balloon. I think I became interested in the question of what if nothing ever popped that balloon? What if you couldn't tell the difference between when you were awake and when you were asleep? And then I started looking for a way to marry those two ideas up, and a few months later we had Awake."

Within a few weeks Killen sent a rough draft of the script to his agent, Marc Korman. Korman phoned Salke, calling the script "remarkable" and praising Killen: "...for a guy who has never written a procedural show in his life", he was "making two cases work." Initially, Salke and Korman hoped to sell acquisition rights to other networks (including Fox). Although it successfully made its way into the lower executive branches of the company, the script was ultimately declined by Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly. Gary Newman, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television, opted not to develop a deal with cable-television networks. Believing it should be a broadcast-network show, he did not accept the idea that the difference between cable and network dramas was their degree of intelligence.

Killen described Awake as neither supernatural drama nor science fiction. He contrasted it with the Fox television series Fringe, claiming that Fringe "asks you to delve into sci-fi"; Awake was described as a "human story", with the crimes on the show emphasizing that level. In addition, Killen made the version of Michael's reality the viewer is watching obvious with a subtle visual device; in the reality where his son is alive (the "green reality"), the background is layered with a watery blue filter (Michael often wears blue in the series). In the reality where his wife is alive (the "red reality"), the background is infused with a brighter, golden hue.

Production team

Awake is a co-production of Letter Eleven and Howard Gordon's Teakwood Lane Productions, in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Gordon was chosen as showrunner for the series by Killen, and commended the pilot script at first glance on a flight to New York City. "I read the pilot, and once I got past my envy, I was struck by the voice," he stated. "So few writers have real voices. Kyle is disarmingly self-effacing; and at the same time, he's disarmingly confident. It's that duality thing: On the one hand, he's open; on the other, he's closed." Gordon later compared the television series to The Good Wife: "The Good Wife has so many procedural aspects that they have to decide which format to use each week...Why is this an Awake episode?" He and Killen served as executive producers (with David Slade and Jeffrey Reiner) for the pilot episode.

The series' episodes were written by Killen, Gordon, Evan Katz, Lisa Zwerling, Noelle Valdivia, Leonard Chang, Davey Holmes and David Graziano. Episodes were directed by Slade, Reiner, Sarah Pia Anderson, Aaron Lipstadt, Scott Winant, Adam Davidson, Michael Waxman, Nick Gomez, Laura Innes, Milan Cheylov and Miguel Sapochnik. Jason Isaacs, Keith Redmon, Ed Milkovich and Michael Klick produced the show. Feliks Parnell was the show's primary cinematographer. Editors of the show were Paul Trejo and Nikc Berrisford; principal photography for the pilot was completed at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, California.


In February 2011, Isaacs was cast in the role of Michael Britten, the central character of the series. Gordon summarized the character: "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 [sic] from one world to the next, and he uses that insight to solve crimes." "[The main character] was somebody that you couldn't decide if you liked or hated, and I think that [Michael]'s dilemma is something that we're not only sympathetic for, but somehow we want him to win." Producers of the show initially approached Michaela McManus to play Hannah Britten. However, Laura Allen was cast instead; McManus obtained the role of Tara (for which Allen originally auditioned).

In March 2011, six roles were cast (including Dylan Minnette as Rex Britten, Michael's son). Minnette commended the series' script, and noted that auditioning was quick. He stated, "The process of getting the job actually went by really fast because the first audition Kyle Killen[...]was in the room, Jason [Isaacs] was in the room, the cast director was in the room and the director was in the room. David Slade. And they were all there, for the first audition and I was like 'Wow! Okay.'" Minnette received the role two weeks after his audition. Other cast members included Wilmer Valderrama and Steve Harris as Michael's partner in each reality, while Cherry Jones and BD Wong's characters were cast as Michael's therapists in separate realities. Wong chose the role in lieu of his part on the police-procedural television drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In September 2011, Innes garnered a recurring role in the series as Tricia Harper, Michael's commanding officer. In January 2012, Kevin Weisman was cast in a recurring role as Ed Hawkins, a detective in a separate division of the LAPD.


Killen said that writing the pilot episode's script was one of the more-difficult components of creating the show. He and his writing team would often get confused with exchanging and executing ideas for the script; as a result they created outlines, distinguishing the separate realities with green or red ink. Slade edited the language to better separate the ideas. Stating that things are "initially confusing to us when we are just trying to break story," he hoped that when viewers watched the pilot episode, they would be immediately oriented in the reality on screen at the time.

The complexity of the pilot's script (and the show's concept) was cited as a potential issue for the series. Salke considered that viewers enjoyed the series' mythology as it affected the characters, despite the show's Sliding Doors–like script. Upon reading the script, Isaacs felt that the show was complicated; knowing which reality you are in was a "gift." He stated that work for Awake was hard, but enjoyable. Isaacs later suggested that it might be too brooding for mainstream American television, and that it could potentially be the "U-bend of scripts." Despite such concerns, Gordon asserted that the concept of Awake was understandable if the viewer was attentive.

Series overview

Michael Britten, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and his family are involved in a car accident. After the crash, Michael is confronted with two separate realities. His wife Hannah has (apparently) survived the accident; however, in a second "reality", his son Rex survives instead. To distinguish the two realities for the viewer, Michael wears a red wristband in the first reality and a green one in the second. Michael does not know which "reality" is real; he has therapy sessions with Dr. Jonathan Lee in the "red reality" and Dr. Judith Evans in the "green", both of whom attempt to diagnose what is happening to Michael. Each therapist sees it as a coping mechanism, insisting that the other reality is a dream. Dr. Lee is confrontational about the accident, while Dr. Evans is more nurturing. In the "red reality" Hannah plans to move to Portland, Oregon, but later decides against it (partly due to Michael's objections).

Before the crash Michael worked with his long-time partner, Detective Isaiah Freeman (known to his LAPD team as "Bird)". After the accident, Michael is assigned to Detective Efrem Vega in the "red reality." Vega was previously an officer, when Bird was transferred to the western division to work with Detective Ed Hawkins. In the "green reality," Michael stays with Bird and Efrem remains an officer. While working on cases in both realities, Michael begins to realize that the details of one case can help him with another case in the other reality. Due to this, he often clashes with his partners (who are unaware of this). Rex and Hannah grieve each other's death after the accident, coping in different ways: In the "red reality" Hannah begins to redecorate the house, while in the "green reality" Rex begins to play tennis with Hannah's former partner Tara. In "Turtles All the Way Down", in a dream Michael sees Hannah at a restaurant. He was "dreaming while he was dreaming", and Hannah told Michael to give her "one last kiss goodbye". This causes Dr. Evans to note that Michael realizes the "green reality" is life. However, soon afterwards Michael sees Rex and Hannah together and is happy.

Details surrounding the accident are slowly revealed as the series progresses. Shortly after the crash, Michael's commanding officers (Tricia Harper and Carl Kessel) meet to talk about the accident and how they set up a "short" guy. Later a microphone at Ricky's Tacos speaks to Michael, claiming that if he moved to Portland he would "never know the truth". Michael slowly begins to remember what happened in the accident; after realizing that Ed caused it, he speaks with Dr. Evans and Dr. Lee. His therapists insist that he is imagining it all to help cope with the pain. However, when Michael later breaks into Ed's house Ed admits that he and an accomplice were hiding heroin at the Westfield Distribution Center; "they decided he had to go", after Michael began to uncover it. Michael does not know who "they" are, demanding that Ed tell him. Ed asks for protection before telling him, and attacks Michael when he is distracted. During the struggle Michael kills Ed, and Bird comes into the house after speaking to Dr. Evans. Michael later discovers that Carl and Tricia are involved in the setup. Tricia shoots Carl in the "green reality" (in an attempt to hide her involvement in the accident), but is later imprisoned. At the end of the series finale ("Turtles All the Way Down"), Michael sees Hannah and Rex together. Concerned about his odd behavior, they ask if he is all right. Michael replies, "I'm perfect," and closes his eyes.

Killen has said that he has seen interesting theories about the finale's meaning. He says no theory is "wrong" except those which compared Awake's finale to Dallas (an American television soap opera) or Newhart (an American television sitcom). He supposed that there was the "überpossibility" that Michael was in a coma, or had a new third reality created, but it was not interpreted as "He woke up and his family was fine. He'd just been having two nightmares." Killen said "we actively fought against" the idea that the series was Michael's dream; what seeing his wife and son together "really represents is a further fracturing of his psyche". A second season, Killen said, would have explored the idea of Michael's wife and son both living but not (necessarily) a third reality. Another season also raised the possibility of Tara and Michael beginning a romantic relationship. Since the finale was written before the show's cancellation, it was written so either reality could have been the "real" one: "[the writers] didn't intend to have that mystery sewn up in ['Turtles All the Way Down']".

Main characters

There are four main characters in each reality, totaling eight. Michael Britten (the lead character) is an LAPD detective who lives in both realities. Since he does not know which reality is "real", he has routines to help him maintain the illusion of control; however, he is also disorganized and sometimes behaves oddly. Michael is often confused, suffers from a sleep disorder and dislikes heights. He refuses treatment because he does not want closure for his family. Hannah Britten is Michael's wife, who is grieving her son's death. She was planned to have an unexpected pregnancy in the show's second season. Rex Britten is Michael's son, a teenage student who had previously been kidnapped. After school Rex often works on a motorbike with his best friend, Cole, at Cole's house. He is emotional and angry over his mother's death, keeping a tennis racket to deal with his grief. When Cole accidentally breaks it, Rex is enraged; later, he apologizes.

Efrem Vega (a detective in the "red reality") and Michael often argue about their cases, and is concerned about Michael's erratic behavior. In "The Little Guy", Vega and Michael are arguing about a case involving a short person when Captain Tricia Harper calls Michael into her office. Shortly afterwards, Michael puts Vega on the lead of a new case and the two become friends. Michael had previously worked with Bird in the "red reality," but Bird is reassigned to a new division. Vega remains an officer in the "green reality" Bird and Michael now only work with each other as partners in the "green reality." Michael sees two therapists: Dr. Jonathan Lee and Dr. Judith Evans. Dr. Lee claims that Michael's two realities are problematic, and Dr. Evans states that they are "remarkable". Rex's tennis coach, Tara, only appeared in three episodes of the series. The character was planned as a potential love interest for Michael in the "green reality" near the end of the first season, but the writers abandoned that storyline; Killen explained they would have explored this storyline during the second season.

Recurring characters

There are five recurring characters, all appearing in both realities. Captain Tricia Harper, Michael's commanding officer at the precinct, was a co-conspirator in Michael's car accident; however, it is hinted that her involvement was reluctant. Captain Carl Kessel (commanding officer at Hawkins' precinct) hid heroin in a storage unit for himself and Harper, and was behind Michael's car accident. For the crash the two used Ed Hawkins, on orders from Kessel.

Other recurring characters include Emma (Daniela Bobadilla) , Rex's girlfriend. Pregnant with Rex's baby, she was originally told to give it up for adoption; however, after a talk with her father Joaquin (Carlos Lacámara) she is allowed to keep it. Cole, Rex's best friend, is another recurring character. The two work on a motorbike together; Cole lets Hannah ride it in the "red reality", after she convinces him to finish it.

Critical response

Awake received generally favorable reviews from critics. At Metacritic (which assigns a weighted mean—out of 100—based on reviews from mainstream critics) the show received a weighted mean score of 75 from 29 reviews. It was the number-two best-reviewed show by Metacritic users for the 2011–12 season, with a user score of 8.0 (behind Revenge). TVLine called Awake in their review of 2012 the "most ambitious ill-fated show". Rachel Ray of The Daily Telegraph called the premiere episode "impressive", while Tierney Bricker of E! Online commented that he enjoyed the idea of a man living in two separate realities to stay in touch with the people he loves. NPR's Linda Holmes said that the pilot laid the foundation for several emotional storylines, evaluating it among the strongest shows in recent memory and very engaging (compared with similar shows).

James Poniewozik of Time noted that while its concept seemed melodramatic, the episode "focuses unflinchingly on the subject of loss, yet manages to be not a downer or painful to watch, but moving, absorbing and even hopeful." He affirmed that the program effectively resolved the issues raised about the series, writing "Awake handles the confusion problem well: yes, it takes more concentration than a Law & Order, but it's no Inception in its twistiness. Michael himself needs to hold on to markers to anchor his sense of reality—for instance, he wears a red and a green wristband in the existences in which his wife and his son are alive, respectively—and those help us follow along too." Reuters' Tim Molloy avouched that the episode was the "best new show of the season": "Despite the most complicated narrative since ABC's Lost kept skipping through time, Awake makes a fast, emotional connection that gives viewers an almost immediate stake in the lives of its compelling characters."

RedEye journalist Curt Wagner stated that the series was smartly written, and praised its actors. BuddyTV writer Laurel Brown called the pilot a "great episode". In his "A"-grade review, Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club said that the episode was a "great piece of televised art", describing the script as "witty, warm, and soulful". He praised Slade's directing, calling the pilot episode "unique" and "wonderful". "Pilot" was highly anticipated by Los Angeles Times journalist Robert Lloyd, who observed that "it promised to be one of the year's best and most interesting new series." In a pre-broadcast review, Matt Fowler from IGN gave the pilot a 10 out of 10, classifying it as a "masterpiece". Writing for the New York Post, Michael Starr called Awake "compelling".

Critics lauded the cast's acting, specifically Isaacs' performance. VanDerWerff concluded that the cast's performances were "delicate and almost perfect", while Wagner felt that Isaacs was well-suited for the lead role and could easily captivate the audience; "his touching, solid work grounds everything. He shows viewers what lengths one man in pain might go to hold onto those he loves. And it's heartbreaking." Denise Duguay of the Montreal Gazette thought that Isaacs evoked a "reservedness" and ambiguity which attracted viewers to his character. Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter echoed this sentiment, writing, "He perfectly conveys a man struggling with two horrible options." Poniewozik considered Isaacs "utterly compelling", calling him "mature", "soulful", and "wearied". Although Stuever felt that Isaacs failed to engage the audience, he praised the performances of Wong and Jones; "Jones and Wong[...]are excellent and even vaguely sinister as the dueling shrinks."

Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly was keen on Isaacs' acting in the series. "It helps enormously to have Isaacs playing the lead. This actor knows how to convey a gravity that contrasts well with the series' airy concept, but he avoids becoming heavy and morose." Fowler stated that Isaacs "delivers a graceful and subdued performance as a man who, on a daily basis, must taste both heaven and hell. A man full of guilt, but also gratitude." Fowler noted that Allen and Minnette's acting in the series deserved praise for playing characters dealing with loss without closure, while Starr called the casting "fine all-around". Critics from IGN and Paste contended that Isaacs' performance deserved an Emmy Award. After Awake's cancellation, Mareen Ryan of The Huffington Post hoped that new dramas on NBC would "achieve the kind of visual and emotional poetry that Awake did." Robert Bianco from USA Today thought that Awake could become one of the season's best new shows. As the series progressed, "Say Hello to My Little Friend" was generally considered the best episode since "Pilot".

Some critics were less enthusiastic. Writing for The Washington Post, Hank Stuever felt that despite high ambitions the pilot episode was slow and drowsy. David Hinckley, in the New York Daily News, claimed that Awake "requires more work [to understand] than the average viewer is likely to put in" and described it as a show which would not fit into prime-time television. "Game Day", in contrast, received mixed reviews from IGN and The A.V. Club; the publications gave it their lowest scores of the season. Zack Handlen, an A.V. Club critic, described the mysteries of "Game Day" "childishly simple". In addition, "Ricky's Tacos" was criticized for being too much like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Despite this, recurring guest star Dr. Banks (Chris McGarry) was well received by Handlen, who thought that he "[was] becoming [his] favorite secondary character on the show". "Nightswimming" also received mixed reviews from critics. That episode's "red reality" storylines were praised; those for the "green reality" were considered "boring". Handlen thought that if the "red reality" storyline was not featured in "Nightswimming", it would not work as an episode; Sepinwall thought the episode should not have gone into detail about the guest stars.

U.S. television ratings

Awake had low viewership and ratings throughout its original run. The premiere episode, which was originally broadcast on March 1, 2012, was watched 6.2 million viewers (the most-viewed program in its time slot for NBC since April 2010 and an improvement over its lead-in show, Up All Night). NBC also won the hour for the 18–49 audience, nearly doubling its numbers with those viewers over The Firm. Awake debuted slightly better than the previous drama occupying the slot in fall 2011, Prime Suspect, which premiered with 6.05 million total viewers and a 1.8/5-percent share in the 18–49 demographic.

The second episode fell by 2 million viewers, running against The Mentalist on CBS and a rerun of GCB on ABC. Awake had its series low with the episode "Two Birds", which premiered on May 17, 2012 against the season finales of the ABC political drama Scandal and The Mentalist on CBS. Awake averaged 4.81 million viewers per episode, ranking 125th in viewership for the 2011–12 season.

Awards and accolades

In June 2011 Awake was honored, along with seven others, with the Critics' Choice Television Award for Most Exciting New Series, chosen by journalists who had seen the pilots. ET Online chose Isaacs as its first actor in their annual Emmy Preview, which predicts winners of particular Emmy Awards. ET Online reviewer Jarett Wieselman noted that Isaacs could snag an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series nomination; however, Isaacs was not on the list of nominees announced July 19, 2012. In 2013, Zap2it included the show on their list of 22 great one-season television shows.

Fan base

Awake generated viewer loyalty during its original three-month broadcast run on NBC, with fans organizing to try and save the series from cancellation. Their efforts included a campaign entitled "Save Awake", holding a "sleep blackout" (fans wearing red and green wristbands with posters saying "Save Awake") outside major television networks in the United States, a letter-writing campaign to networks such as Fox and CBS and a YouTube fan-made video.


Awake episodes premiered in March 2012 on NBC in the United States and the Global Television Network in Canada (which had identical schedules). However, Global aired the series finale a day before its American premiere because the Canadian series Rookie Blue was broadcast in Awake's time slot. It premiered on April 11 in Australia on W, and on May 4 in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky Atlantic. Fox picked up the rights to air the series in Asia, and debuted Awake on June 11.

Episodes of the show are also available online at Netflix, Amazon Video, and the iTunes Store (which offer all 13 episodes for purchase—with episodes originally appearing the day after their live airing—in standard-definition and high-definition). As of September 2012, the final five episodes are available in streaming video on NBC's official Awake webpage and Hulu. The first episode was made available two weeks before the series' broadcast premiere (on February 16, 2012) on Hulu, YouTube (its first seven minutes), and the iTunes Store.

Broadcast history

Awake consists of thirteen one-hour episodes. The series originally aired in the United States at 10:00 pm (EST) Thursdays on NBC from March 1 to May 24, 2012 (although it was originally scheduled to premiere in fall 2011). Awake debuted as a mid-season replacement for The Firm, which moved to Saturday nights in the U.S. and Canada. The series' final episode, "Turtles All the Way Down", aired outside the television season on May 24, 2012. Low ratings resulted in NBC's cancelling the show on May 11, 2012 (after eleven of the thirteen produced episodes were aired), although the network finished airing the remaining episodes in the series' original time slot.

The A.V. Club opined that Awake's slot (opposite the hit drama The Mentalist) contributed to the show's failure.'s Gretchen Alice observed that Awake was in a "tough timeslot", and NBC's previous shows in that slot also fared poorly.


Awake (TV series) Wikipedia

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