Unique premise of NBC’s “Awake” promises intriguing twist on crime procedurals

NBC’s new show “Awake” has a unique overarching hook: Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) has just been in a car accident with his wife and son where only one of them survived. The question is, which one?

Michael is living in two separate realities – one where his wife Hannah is alive and one where his son Rex is – and he can’t tell which one is a dream and which one is real life. To differentiate the realities, the scenes are colored differently so the audience can tell them apart. Scenes with Hannah are colored normally while scenes with Rex appear grayer; could this be a potential clue?

If not for this concept, “Awake” would just be a standard cop drama, as Michael solves a different crime in each reality. Though different, the details of the crimes in each reality are connected and help him solve the cases.

The cop portion of the show, however, takes a backseat to the drama unfolding around Michael’s perceived medical condition. Each of his therapists – one confrontational, the other kind and supportive – insists that their reality is the real one. They also both tell him that on the night of the accident his blood alcohol level was elevated, yet Michael insists that he wasn’t drinking that night, leaving the audience to question what really happened.

It is refreshing to see Isaacs, best known for his role as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, portraying someone that differs from the bad-guy archetype. He is fantastic as a man coping with grief and trying to live his life amidst his mysterious situation. Wilmer Valderrama (best known as Fez on “That ‘70s Show”) also shows up as Michael’s new partner in one reality.

“Awake” poses many interesting questions, but one of them, perhaps the most difficult to answer, is directed toward the audience. Who would you choose to live: spouse or child? Michael tells his therapist that he refuses to choose and that he’ll live in each world for as long as his mind can sustain it. Hopefully, “Awake” can sustain this concept too.

The pilot episode is available on Hulu and the series airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.