The dream is over for the low-rated NBC series "Awake." NBC announced the cancellation, along with the Chelsea Handler comedy "Are You There, Chelsea," in May. Even those who liked the show were not surprised to see it go, in part because of its premise but also because of its time slot, as well as a couple other factors.
Premise Difficult to Sustain
Each week, homicide detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) lived in two worlds. But no, in this hybrid of a SF show and a police procedure, that's not just a metaphor. He literally lived in two worlds, two versions of his life. The moment that split the two was a terrible car accident. In one version, his son survived, and in the other, his wife did.
A typical episode followed Michael as he jumped between worlds: going to sleep in one and waking in the other. To distinguish between the two of them, the reality with his wife was shot in a golden hue, while the world where his son survived was shot with a bluish tint. Furthermore, in one world he was partnered with a young cop, while in the other he was partnered by a more experienced one. As he worked in both worlds to solve murders, he often learned insights that helped him from the other world.
But while this was fascinating for the first few episodes, it had already become difficult to imagine how the series could be sustained. Especially as Michael began to unravel the truth about the fatal accident, it seemed less and less likely that the split worlds would remain a viable premise. In many similar high-concept series, once the big mystery of the first season is unraveled, subsequent seasons are disappointing.
For casual viewers, the series might have seemed difficult to enter if starting later in the season. As Michael began to uncover corruption in his police department, as well as a subplot involving his son's girlfriend, casual viewers who found the premise intriguing might have left in confusion.
Time Slot Didn't Match the Show.
NBC put the show on at 10 p.m. Thursday, a slot that had once been dominated by the "Law & Order" franchise. However, recent scheduling shifts had reclaimed that slot as part of comedy night. "Awake" certainly did not fit with the comedies that led up to it, meaning that many viewers probably switched channels. It also wasn't strong enough as a police procedural to pick up the former "Law & Order" fans, who have no doubt begun watching other programs since that series ended.
Hybrid of Two Genres Didn't Work.
The concept was fascinating, but the split focus on two different crime scenes each week made the show nearly impossible to enjoy as a police procedural. Fans of police procedurals like the police investigation to lead to concrete clues with twists and turns along the way. But jumping back and forth between two crime scenes made it difficult to remember which clue related to which case. Perhaps this could have been alleviated by having only one crime to solve per episode, but at this point, it's moot.
The ramifications of his personal life were kept at a distance, since Michael was content to live in two separate worlds, as long as he didn't need to lose either loved one. This minimized the emotional impact of his fractured family. Allowing him to deal with such questions would have made the SF side of the story stronger.
The good news is that the series came to a satisfactory ending, wrapping up all the loose ends at the end of the final episode. While "Awake" will not continue as a series, new fans may still discover it on DVD. Ultimately, it would have made a better miniseries than a series.
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