Jason Isaacs

Awake, which premieres March 1 on NBC (10/9c), is the sort of show I would happily lose sleep over. Hauntingly, daringly original, a psychological mystery that teases the mind while tugging the heart, this brave new series is so unconventional it feels like a dream. It's the sort of bold experiment you only find on a network that has no choice but to take risks.

The show opens on a nightmare: a terrible car accident with Detective Michael Britten (Harry Potter vet Jason Isaacs) behind the wheel of the family car. In the aftermath, Michael finds himself caught between two realities: one in which his wife (Laura Allen) died, the other in which he lost his teenage son (Dylan Minnette). Whenever he goes to sleep in one world, he wakes in the other.

Which is real? Either or neither? Is Michael even awake, or alive? So many questions about duality for his two disparate shrinks (Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong, both excellent) to obsess about as they analyze his extreme "coping mechanism" for unspeakable tragedy.

Sounds like a downer, but somehow Awake finds uplift in Michael's poignant existential dilemma. Unwilling to let either of his loved ones go for good, he insists, "I feel better every time I open my eyes."  As played with rugged warmth and tormented vulnerability by the charismatic Isaacs, you believe him.

Wisely, the show provides the viewer a familiar comfort zone by grounding this Twilight Zone story in a police procedural. Turns out Michael's bizarre new perspective makes him an especially intuitive detective, as the cases in both worlds start to eerily echo and bleed into each other.

Still, it's not like you'd mistake this for CSI: Fugue State. When one of his shrinks worries that Michael's situation "will eventually become unsustainable," it's hard not to project a similar concern toward something as offbeat and emotionally risky as Awake.

Even if it doesn't ultimately work out, no one can accuse NBC of having been asleep at the wheel. And don't let that be your excuse for not giving this fascinating show a try.

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