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Awake (TV series)

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The word AWAKE is colored black, and there is a large white background.
GenrePolice procedural
Created byKyle Killen
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes13 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Feliks Parnell
  • Jo Willems
  • Paul Trejo
  • Todd Desrosiers
  • Rick Tuber
  • Nick Berrisford
  • Jordan Goldman
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time43 minutes
Production companies
Distributor20th Television
Original networkNBC
Picture format
Audio format5.1 Surround Sound
Original releaseMarch 1 (2012-03-01) –
May 24, 2012 (2012-05-24)

Awake is an American police procedural fantasy drama television series 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. Kyle Killen, the series' creator, was primarily responsible for the program's concept. Killen and David Slade served as executive producers of the pilot episode, and Killen continued producing the series along with Jeffrey Reiner and Howard Gordon.

The show's central character is Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), a detective who works for the Los Angeles Police Department. In the first episode, Michael, his wife Hannah (Laura Allen), and their son Rex (Dylan Minnette) get into a serious car accident. After the accident, he finds himself switching between two "realities" whenever he goes to bed—one in which Hannah was killed in the accident and one in which Rex died instead—and is unable to determine which reality is true. He uses details from each reality to solve cases in the other.

Awake garnered critical praise, particularly for Isaacs' performance. However, its ratings were low, averaging 4.8 million viewers per episode and sitting in 125th place in viewership for the 2011–12 season. The series was canceled after one season.

Series overview[edit]

Michael Britten, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and his family are involved in a car accident.[1] After the crash, Michael is confronted with two separate realities.[1] His wife Hannah has (apparently) survived the accident; however, in a second "reality", his son Rex survives instead.[1] To distinguish the two realities for the viewer, Michael wears a red wristband in the first reality and a green one in the second.[1] 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",[1] both of whom attempt to diagnose what is happening to Michael.[1] Each therapist sees it as a coping mechanism, insisting that the other reality is a dream.[1] Dr. Lee is confrontational about the accident, while Dr. Evans is more nurturing.[1] In the "red reality" Hannah plans to move to Portland, Oregon, but later decides against it[2][3] (partly due to Michael's objections).[4]

Before the crash Michael worked with his long-time partner, Detective Isaiah Freeman (known to his LAPD team as "Bird)".[1] 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.[1][5] In the "green reality," Michael stays with Bird and Efrem remains an officer.[1] 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.[1][6] Due to this, he often clashes with his partners, who are unaware of his situation.[6] Rex and Hannah grieve each other's death after the accident, coping in different ways:[7][8] 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.[1] In "Turtles All the Way Down", in a dream Michael sees Hannah at a restaurant.[9] He was "dreaming while he was dreaming", and Hannah told Michael to give her "one last kiss goodbye".[9] This causes Dr. Evans to note that Michael realizes the "green reality" is life.[9] However, soon afterwards Michael sees Rex and Hannah together and is happy.[9]

"Detective Hawkins ran me off the road and destroyed my family. He's the reason we will never all be together again."

Michael Britten ("Two Birds")[10]

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.[11][6] Later a microphone at Ricky's Tacos speaks to Michael, claiming that if he moved to Portland he would "never know the truth".[4] Michael slowly begins to remember what happened in the accident;[4][5] after realizing that Ed caused it, he speaks with Dr. Evans and Dr. Lee.[5] His therapists insist that he is imagining it all to help cope with the pain.[10] 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.[10] Michael does not know who "they" are, demanding that Ed tell him.[10] Ed asks for protection before telling him, and attacks Michael when he is distracted.[10] During the struggle Michael kills Ed, and Bird comes into the house after speaking to Dr. Evans.[10] Michael later discovers that Carl and Tricia are involved in the setup.[9][10] Tricia shoots Carl in the "green reality" (in an attempt to hide her involvement in the accident), but is later imprisoned.[9] 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.


Main cast of Awake
Actor[12] Character Reality
Jason Isaacs Detective Michael Britten Red and green
Laura Allen Hannah Britten Red
Steve Harris Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman Green
Dylan Minnette Rex Britten Green
BD Wong Dr. Jonathan Lee Red
Michaela McManus Tara Green
Wilmer Valderrama Detective Efrem Vega Red
Cherry Jones Dr. Judith Evans Green

Main characters[edit]

There are four main characters in each reality, totaling eight. Michael Britten (the lead character) is an LAPD detective who lives in both realities.[1] Since he does not know which reality is "real", he has routines to help him maintain the illusion of control;[13] however, he is also disorganized and sometimes behaves oddly.[13] Michael is often confused, suffers from a sleep disorder and dislikes heights.[5][13] He refuses treatment because he does not want closure for his family.[9] Hannah Britten is Michael's wife, who is grieving her son's death.[1] Rex Britten[10] is Michael's son, a teenage student who had previously been kidnapped.[1][7] After school Rex often works on a motorbike with his best friend, Cole, at Cole's house.[6] He is emotional and angry over his mother's death,[8] keeping a tennis racket to deal with his grief.[8] When Cole accidentally breaks it, Rex is enraged; later, he apologizes.[8]

Efrem Vega (a detective in the "red reality") and Michael often argue about their cases, and is concerned about Michael's erratic behavior.[6] 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.[6] Shortly afterwards, Michael puts Vega on the lead of a new case and the two become friends.[3][6] 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"[1] Bird and Michael now only work with each other as partners in the "green reality." [2] 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".[6]

Recurring characters[edit]

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.[10] 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.[3] For the crash the two used Ed Hawkins,[5][10] on orders from Kessel.[10]

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;[3] however, after a talk with her father Joaquin (Carlos Lacámara) she is allowed to keep it.[5] 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.[6]



Killen devised the concept of the program,[14] drawing 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."[15] After being turned down by Fox,[16] the pilot (then titled REM) was picked up by NBC in 2011,[14][17] and the series was green-lit shortly thereafter.[18][19][20]

Production team[edit]

A balding man with a buttoned shirt in front of a microphone, and he is talking.
Howard Gordon was chosen as showrunner for the series.

Awake was a co-production of Letter Eleven and Howard Gordon's Teakwood Lane Productions, in association with 20th Century Fox Television.[21] Gordon served as showrunner for the series,[22] while Killen wrote several episodes of the show.[21] Jason Isaacs, Keith Redmon, Ed Milkovich and Michael Klick produced the show.[21] Editors of the show were Paul Trejo and Nikc Berrisford.[23] Feliks Parnell was the show's primary cinematographer;[1] principal photography for the pilot was completed at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, California.[21]


A man with dark brown hair and gray eyes is looking forward and smiling.
Jason Isaacs was the first actor to be cast in the series.

Isaacs was the first actor to be cast in the series, playing the role of the central character Michael Britten.[24] "[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."[25] 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).[26]

Dylan Minnette was cast as Rex Britten, Michael's son.[27] 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.'"[28] Minnette received the role two weeks after his audition.[28] 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.[27] Wong left his role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit to join the cast of Awake.[29] Laura Innes and Kevin Weismand had recurring roles as members of LAPD.[30][11][31][32]


Young man in checkered shirt sitting in front of a microphone
Kyle Killen created outlines for the script and distinguished them in green and red ink.

Killen said that writing the pilot episode's script was one of the more-difficult components of creating the show.[15] 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.[15] 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.[15]


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, season 1 holds an approval rating of 81% based on 31 reviews, with an average rating of 7.59/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Intelligent and thought-provoking, Awake tempts audiences with an original and complex concept that keeps them guessing."[33]

Awake drew strong reviews for its pilot. Rachel Ray of The Daily Telegraph called the premiere episode "impressive",[34] while NPR's Linda Holmes said that it laid the foundation for several emotional storylines, evaluating it among the strongest shows in recent memory.[35] 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."[36]

Isaacs' performance garnered praise throughout the run of the series. Curt Wagner of RedEye said: "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."[37] Matt Fowler of IGN said 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."[38] Some critics called for Isaacs to receive an Emmy Award.[39][40]

In contrast, some viewers were unimpressed with Awake. Writing for The Washington Post, Hank Stuever felt that despite high ambitions the pilot episode was slow and drowsy.[41] Certain episodes were singled out for particularly poor quality: "Game Day" was called "childishly simple",[42] "Ricky's Tacos" was criticized for too closely resembling Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,[43] and "Nightswimming" was described as uneven and boring.[44][45]

U.S. television ratings[edit]

Awake had low viewership and ratings throughout its original run. The premiere episode started strong, becoming the most-viewed program in its time slot for NBC in almost two years,.[46][47] but its second episode fell by two million viewers,[48] and overall the show averaged 4.81 million viewers per episode, ranking 125th in viewership for the 2011–12 season.[49]

U.S. television ratings for Awake
No. Title Original air date 18–49 rating % share U.S. viewers
(in millions)
Time slot rank Ref.
1 "Pilot" March 1, 2012 (2012-03-01) 2.0 5% 6.24 1st [50]
2 "The Little Guy" March 8, 2012 (2012-03-08) 1.6 4% 4.33 2nd [48]
3 "Guilty" March 15, 2012 (2012-03-15) 1.6 4% 5.12 2nd [51]
4 "Kate Is Enough" March 22, 2012 (2012-03-22) 1.2 3% 4.73 2nd [52]
5 "Oregon" March 29, 2012 (2012-03-29) 1.0 3% 3.18 2nd [53]
6 "That's Not My Penguin" April 5, 2012 (2012-04-05) 0.9 3% 2.56 3rd [54]
7 "Ricky's Tacos" April 12, 2012 (2012-04-12) 0.9 2% 2.68 3rd [55]
8 "Nightswimming" April 19, 2012 (2012-04-19) 0.9 2% 2.80 3rd [56]
9 "Game Day" April 26, 2012 (2012-04-26) 0.8 2% 2.21 3rd [57]
10 "Slack Water" May 3, 2012 (2012-05-03) 0.7 2% 2.15 3rd [58]
11 "Say Hello to My Little Friend" May 10, 2012 (2012-05-10) 0.9 2% 2.51 3rd [59]
12 "Two Birds" May 17, 2012 (2012-05-17) 0.7 2% 2.10 3rd [60]
13 "Turtles All the Way Down" May 24, 2012 (2012-05-24) 0.9 3% 2.87 3rd [61]

Awards and accolades[edit]

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.[62] ET Online chose Isaacs as its first actor in their annual Emmy Preview, which predicts winners of particular Emmy Awards.[63] ET Online reviewer Jarett Wieselman noted that Isaacs could snag an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series nomination;[63] however, Isaacs was not on the list of nominees announced July 19, 2012.[64][65]


Awake was originally broadcast on NBC in the United States. It aired on the Global Television Network in Canada,[66] on W in Australia,[67] and on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland.[68][69][70] Fox Channel Asia picked up the rights to air the series in Asia.[71][72]

Broadcast history[edit]

Awake consists of thirteen one-hour episodes.[14] The series originally aired in the United States on Thursdays at 10:00pm from March 1 to May 24, 2012 on NBC.[73][74][75] The series was a mid-season replacement for The Firm, which moved to Saturday nights.[73][74][75] The series' final episode, "Turtles All the Way Down", aired outside the television season on May 24, 2012.[76] 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.[77][78][79]


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