Out of all the pilots I was able to screen last year (at Comic Con and otherwise), Awake remained far and away my favorite. Being initially interested due to the involvement of Jason Isaacs, I was soon drawn into the program, captivated by the beautiful cinematography (dark vs light lighting dependent on Isaac’s character being awake or asleep) as well as the compelling acting and the very “stripped bare” human relationship stories. It was intense, and most of all, it was refreshingly different from most procedural cop shows and serial dramas that flood the airways on a regular basis. Awake had so many beautiful elements that allowed it to be brilliant, and yet I walked out of the panel at Comic Con with a pit in my stomach. Why?
Because it’s quite possible that Awake is just too ambitious not only for a network television drama, but for the general television viewing public – and that is part of the reason that I was hesitant to fall in love with it. Is it right to be wary of a show with such an ambitious plot? Yes. But the media said the same thing about LOST, and many established actors passed on a chance to read for the pilot because of the “it can’t go further than one episode” stigmata that came with the premise of a plane crash on a deserted island.
We (the critics, the fans, the rabid followers of social media) are but a small chunk of what makes up an audience…and as loud as our voices are, sometimes it is just not enough. Television watchers today rarely see the bigger picture, instead, they choose to pass over smartly constructed shows in favor of things that are easier (on the eyes and the brain) to digest. It’s the primary reason behind why shows like Jersey Shore are renewed season after season while brilliantly smart programs such as Community, Fringe, 30 Rock and Parks & Recreation fall well below the Nielsen number needed to secure stability among a constantly changing programming schedule.
Do I believe that Awake can find its loophole that will allow it to succeed where others have failed? Yes. Do I believe it might take some time to convince the general public (as well as some critics) that it’s worth the investment of sitting in front of your television and paying straight attention every Thursday night at 10pm? Yes. The fact is, there are no right or wrong answers to what makes a show work, although you can always factor in capable actors, well constructed plots and character development. Still, the biggest factor is luck. Luck, a right place/right time moment in not only real time but also in television landscape time (two very different things.) Why did LOST succeed where other serial shows did not? Why did The X-Files become a hit despite it’s Friday night death time slot? Why is Mad Men such an acclaimed program (and rightfully so) yet Pan Am crashed and burned faster than a Boeing 747? What was the magic of Friends and why have other shows that have blatantly tried (and blatantly not tried) to emulate that come off as nothing more than cheap imitations?
Shows like Awake deserve a chance, and oftentimes they are passed over because they are deemed to complicated or even too intense to follow (Prime Suspect, anyone?) And I can only hope that NBC will allow this one to stick in viewers minds, even if the ratings might not show it.
Awake airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.