'Awake' takes wide-eyed look at two worlds
Posted February 28, 2012
Michael Britten lives in two worlds. He just can't tell which one is real.
The Los Angeles police detective (Jason Isaacs) at the center of NBC's Awake (Thursday, 10 ET/PT) finds himself confused by dueling existences — one real, one a dream — after a deadly car accident. In one, his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) has died; in the other, he loses his son, Rex (Dylan Minnette).
By straddling the two worlds, he keeps each of his loved ones alive.
"He knows perfectly well that it's really unhealthy the way he's living his life. It can only ever cost him. It can only ever make things go badly," Isaacs says. "He's just living for today, because he knows tomorrow he will have to fully accept the loss of either his son or his wife."
Britten's worlds differ. In one, his wife wants a baby. In the other, his son deals with his loss by bonding with his tennis coach (Michaela McManus).
On the job, Britten teams with a police veteran (Steve Harris) in one world; in the other, he has a young partner (Wilmer Valderrama) who is supposed to keep an eye on him. Elements of the cases they investigate can bleed into each other.
"If he's dreaming it, why is he dreaming it?" Isaacs asks. "What's going on in his life that's making him come up with this as a case?" Or how does it help him "work out what's going wrong or right with his wife or son or anything else in his personal life?"
One important case will be the car accident itself. Britten's blood-alcohol report confirms he had been drinking, but he disputes it. "The first season will be around the governing idea of what happened that night (and) solving the mystery of the accident and the attendant conspiracy," executive producer Howard Gordon (24, Homeland) says.
Adds executive producer Kyle Killen: "The answers are there to be found, but it cuts against (Britten's) desire to treat both worlds as real."
In the aftermath of the accident, Britten also has two therapists: the firm Dr. Lee (BD Wong) and the more comforting Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones). Each tries to help Britten gain separation from the other world, which is unreal, at least to them.
"What we know is that he has a dream world that is confusing him because it seems so real, but we don't know to the full extent of how completely he does not know one from the other," Jones says.
"She has a very soft and maternal … vibe," Wong says. "He is harder, in a nutshell. I think our concern for (Britten) comes from the same place, but with very different sensibilities."
Says Jones: "I love that (the therapists) are so competitive. Even though I know that Dr. Lee is a dream, I still disagree with him."
Killen likes the idea of characters who have conflicting existences. Britten "finds himself drawn in different directions, so the challenge for him is trying to be the same guy while his worlds are becoming very different."
Killen also explored a dual dynamic in Fox's Lone Star, a critically well-received drama about a Texas con man living two lives that flailed in the ratings and was quickly canceled.
Awake contains elements designed to avoid some of the problems of Lone Star, Killen says. Weekly self-contained police cases could appeal to more casual viewers who may not want to make as big a time commitment in order to keep up with the serialized story. And the Lone Star protagonist "was a morally ambiguous character," while Britten isn't, he says.
As for which of Awake's worlds is the genuine article, Isaacs has his own guess. "We know which one we think is real, but I'm not even telling my wife. We know where we want to go with it. We'll see."
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