It is no secret, if you have read any Orangechair posts, that I wanted NBC’s Awake to be the greatest show of the season. I thought the concept was brilliant and that the show had nearly endless potential. It is also no secret that not only is Awake not the greatest show of the season, it is also being cancelled. For those of you that haven’t seen the show, it follows Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs). After a terrible car crash with his family, Michael’s world is torn in two. In one world, Michael’s wife survived the crash and his son did not. When Michael goes to sleep in that world, he wakes up in another where his son survived and his wife did not. The show focuses on Michael as he tried to not only understand what his mind is doing but also understand about his car crash and the truth about who he is.
I have identified four fundamental mistakes that took the great idea of Awake and turned it into a cancelled show. Rather than just listing the problems, I’m also going to give you a way that I would try and remedy the mistakes. I have no right to complain about the show if I haven’t thought up ways to fix it.
Problem 1: Awake started with an amazing episode that introduced the audience to the Michael Britten’s life apart and the two worlds that resulted from it. After jumping in head first and challenging the audience with some fairly advanced psychological ideas, the show hit the brakes. For the next couple of episodes, the show takes on a Law and Order, cookie cutter type style. In each episode, there is a crime in each world and Michael uses information from both worlds to solve both crimes. There is no development of an overarching plot, just crimes to solve.
My Fix: The show wasted too much time focusing on Michael trying to cope with his situation rather than trying to understand it. Episodes that allowed more insight into Michael’s condition like “That’s Not My Penguin” or “Ricky’s Tacos”, should have been interspersed with the episodes that did nothing to further a continuing story line.
Problem 2: The show eventually did focus on understanding Michael’s psychological problems but did not develop them enough. Episodes consisted of Michael having hallucinations or being stuck in one world, aspects of the psychological problem that can be developed. The problem is the show does not develop them further than a single episode.
My Fix: Tie these odd occurrences together and don’t just blame them on Michael’s need to cope with the situation, which is how most of the bizarre occurrences were explained. The penguin hallucinations and Michael being unable to travel from world to world should not have been swept under the rug after one episode. These oddities should have been reoccurring to help develop Michael, his condition and the show’s storyline in general.
Problem 3: One thing the show did that I loved was spend somewhere near half a season building up the cause of Michael’s accident and his condition. Taking away his memory of the crash served perfectly to build up mystery but the show didn’t stop there. The show involved Michael’s bosses and a couple of dirty cops, allowing them time to talk on screen about the crash as if they had some added knowledge about it that the audience did not. The show also, at one point, added a criminal that seemed to be similar to Michael. The criminal seemed to not only have knowledge that Michael existed in two worlds but he also seemed to be in a situation similar to Michael’s. The show was building up the crash and the condition into something big and unique. I was expecting something otherworldly or at least some type of an experiment that was done to Michael, maybe that was my fault for misreading the build but that’s what it felt like it was building to. I found myself to be very disappointed when it turned out the police caused the crash to try and kill Michael so he wouldn’t reveal that they were dirty.
My Fix: Personally, I would have preferred the cause of the condition to be supernatural or the result of an experiment. No matter what your preference, whether you want the cause to be otherworldly or you’re rooting for Michael to just be crazy, the show needed to make a decision. Building to something unique only to have the cause of the crash and condition be dirty cops trying to kill Michael was downright disappointing.
Problem 4: Whether Awake fumbled its series finale because it scrambled to change the end when it found out it was being cancelled or it just had a bad ending, the last five minutes of the finale hurt the show. Rather than giving us an explanation, the show throws Michael through a wild self-realization that results in both worlds being stripped away. With no real explanation of what’s happened, Michael escapes both worlds and somehow wakes up in one where both his wife and son are alive.
My Fix: As of right now I’m not really sure what happened with the finale. Is Michael’s son dead? Is his wife dead? Are they both dead? Is Michael himself dead? Or is he just crazy? Was it all a dream? Who knows because the show alludes to any and all of these things happening. Rather than giving us an answer, we were given a happy ending. While that’s nice, it’s not what an audience needs. The show should have either developed an ending that alluded to a next season or created a happy ending that also gave an explanation as to what was happening.
As sad as I am that this how isn’t coming back, I do understand why it got cancelled. The show structure had some major flaws that needed to be fixed for it to be a smashing success. I told you what I would do to fix the problems that I saw, now it’s time for you to let me know how you would fix it. Hopefully, the next time NBC comes across an amazing show concept they can make it last for more than one season.