Complex TV

p. 64-65: AWAKE

[Awake’s] first 50 seconds is not particularly rich in narrative details— we learn that there was a car accident and that presumably Rex was killed in the accident—but it does provide some key clues on how to watch the series. First, the camera work and editing is established as unconventionally stylized and free roaming across time frames without explicit motivation, encouraging us to pay attention to visual style in a way that few network programs do. The dialogue sets up two poles for how to approach the story that will prove to be crucial—Dr. Lee takes an analytic tactic, as befits his profession, trying to understand how things work and to grapple with the situation’s origins. Michael wants to live in the now, downplaying that anything unusual is happening to him. These poles of engagement help structure the program’s narrative, as his two therapists (one in each reality) want to make rational sense of what is happening to Michael as he flips between reality and a presumed dream, while Michael just wants to enjoy his split lives, in which he effectively can live without permanent loss. As he says at the end of the pilot, “When it comes to letting one of them go, I have no desire to ever make progress.” Contrasting with the midstory start of Alias and other pilots, Awake’s insistence that we begin in the present tense seems to distinguish itself from other high-concept complex television series. These dual approaches mirror how we might engage with the unusual narrative scenario as well—we can try to make rational sense of it to solve a mystery (“so tell me how this works”), or we can enjoy the now by accepting the premise as it is, not as a problem to be solved. Much of complex television fosters a mode of forensic fandom in which viewers are encouraged to solve such high-concept puzzles, to ask “why?” and presume that there is an answer to be found by drilling down and analyzing, much like with therapy or academic analysis. But Awake’s pilot invites viewers to side with Michael, not only as the story’s protagonist but as a role model for accepting what we have been given without wanting to know the reasons why—as viewers, Michael asks that we do not focus on cracking the enigmas of what is “really” going on here or deduce which reality is real.

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