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TV Series Review

Dreams are funny things. Rarely do we see them for what they are when we're in them. Rarely do we question why we're eating lunch with Condoleezza Rice and our long-dead grandmother in a quaint Thai restaurant. In the moment, we merely think, "I hate Thai food!" and scan the menu for a hamburger.

Our dreams feel real enough. And sometimes our waking lives can feel rather dreamlike. Which is why most of us can relate—albeit ever-so-dimly—to Michael Britten.

Michael, a homicide detective, is back at work after he and his family suffer a tragic car crash—one in which not everyone made it out alive. But who died, exactly? Michael doesn't know. At night, he might settle into bed next to his wife, Hannah, as they silently grieve for their teenage son, Rex. And then he'll wake up and send Rex off to school—and both will try to push past the loss of Hannah.

Michael's living two lives, but he can't tell which is reality and which is merely a dream. Nor does he dare intentionally mess up either life to find out. So desperate is his situation that he begins wearing colored rubber bands on his wrist to tell the two realities apart: When his wife's alive (sequences filmed in warm, almost sunset-like hues), he wears a red band. When it's his son (seen in cooler, starker tones), he wears a green one.

In the midst of all this, Michael still has a job to do: People are still being murdered with frightening regularity in both of his worlds. "All I end up doing is work twice as many homicides," he complains to one of his two psychologists. Talk about burning the candle at both ends.

It gets weirder: A clue found in one reality might bleed over into the other, helping him solve a supposedly unrelated case. A family secret uncovered in one might help ease some pain in the other. Sometimes it feels as though these two worlds are working together. At others, both seem to mock him.

Is he crazy? Or is all of this merely an understandable coping mechanism for unimaginable loss? Could both realities be real? Could they both be unreal? Is it possible that Michael, through this bizarre double life, is trying somehow to piece together what really happened to his family?

These questions are, naturally, unanswerable in the show's early going. But if Awake somehow finds a way to keep its novel sci-fi twist alive and vibrant, they may be worth considering in more depth. And they have the potential to open up some interesting philosophical, even theological issues.

Setting aside Awake's bizarre premise, though, it's essentially a crime procedural, potentially plagued with all the perils that genre comes with. Murder is part and parcel, and gore and violence can take center stage in any given episode. Language can be rough. And sex (between Michael and his wife) showed up as early as the very first episode. Also, Awake's whole ethos seems to bridle against authority: Rex, we learn, kept secrets from both his parents, and he struggles with his father's authority. Michael, similarly, pushes against his bosses. We'll see going forward whether it's with good reason or not.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

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Episode Reviews

Awake: 3-8-2012



Readability Age Range



Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten; Laura Allen as Hannah Britten; Dylan Minnette as Rex Britten; Steve Harris as Det. Isaiah 'Bird' Freeman; BD Wong as Dr. John Lee; Wilmer Valderrama as Det. Efrem Vega; Cherry Jones as Dr. Judith Evans






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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