Would You Rather be Awake or Asleep?

A cartoon about dreams and good TV.

Posted Apr 24, 2012

woman in cartoon watches her therapist on TV

woman tells her therapist that she watches too much tv, and the therapist is on the channel

Aha! You thought I'd say Dr. Phil! Or maybe Dr. Katz, since I'm a cartoonist? No, it's someone else: actually, TWO therapists, and they're great. 

NBC's Awake, and why he needs therapy

When we first meet Detective Michael Britten (the mesmerizing Jason Issacs) in NBC’s new series, Awake, he has recently suffered a fatal accident in which a member of his family was killed. We don’t know exactly how or why the accident happened, but it was tragic. Either his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) was killed, or his teenage son Rex (Dylan Minnette) died, and we don’t know which one is dead. Neither does he.

When he wakes up on Day A, there is his wife beside him. Down the hall is their son’s room, who died a few months ago in the car accident. Of course, they are both extremely sad, but the wife is sadder, as she tries to move forward in life.

Because when the Detective wakes up the next morning, Day B, the other side of his bed is smooth and empty, because his beloved wife Hannah passed away in the car accident. His son Rex is getting ready for school, and doing his best to move beyond grieving for his dead mother.

Day A and Day B alternate every morning. When Detective Britten goes to work at the LAPD each day, he wears a colored elastic around his wrist to remind him which world he is in. His office is the same, and his police colleagues are the same each day, but he has different Detective partners on Day A and Day B, and each day has separate cases to solve.

Obviously, this would be extremely hard for anyone to handle, even for little things, let alone the big ones. Did he charge his cell phone yesterday? Which case is he working on? Did he forget something important from the day before?

No one could go through this alone. Detective Britten tries to tell his wife that his son is not really dead—that he sees his son Rex every other day, and that Rex plays tennis, has an argument with a friend, gets a girlfriend. This is extremely upsetting to his wife, as she thinks her husband is mentally ill or has a stress disorder, talking about their dead son like he is alive. Britten stops talking about it. He also tries to confide in one of his partners at the LAPD, who recommends Britton apply for medical leave and get some help.

How to get two therapists for the price of one

Fortunately, the LAPD has arranged for stress counseling after his traumatic car accident, and so our hero has 2 amazing, fascinating therapists, (Cherry Jones and BD Wong), one in World A and one in World B, to whom he can speak freely. He tells each of them the truth: that one day his son is dead, and in the parallel world, it’s his wife who has died. Each therapist confidently assures him that THIS is the real world, and the other world is a dream. He says, “That’s what the other shrink told me, too.”

I would go to either of these therapists in a heartbeat! Each is sensible, compassionate, very smart, and intuitive enough to point out how he is compensating for the real death of (fill in the blank) by pretending that person is alive in the other world. Sometimes they get a little frustrated that he still “believes” in the “dream” world, but they don’t give up.

We know what we would do in such a situation: get the 2 therapists together, or at least see them both in one world, and try to figure out what is real. Our protagonist is a detective, after all. But here’s the kicker: if he discovers and has to hear that truth that either Life A or Life B is definitely a dream, he would suffer the unbearable grief of really losing either his son or his wife forever, instead of both seeming to be very much alive now. Why would anyone want to know that kind of truth?

That is why Awake is one of the most finely crafted TV shows on right now: this is called story logic, when everything is believable according to the rules of this story. The characters are well-acted and well-drawn, and life and death is always at stake for the protagonist..

The cinematography is also well-done. I’ve worked on many sets, and visited even more, and it’s easy to rely on the crew to take care of the details, instead of having an overall vision. Details are important on this show; for instance, this is the cleanest LAPD station you’ve ever seen! And the lighting in this show is…unusual.

Thursday nights on NBC. Great show! I’d love to hear your comments and ideas in the comments.

If this show is too out there for you, you might enjoy my other cartoon about a different genre of TV. And I write more about TV here.

Like my Facebook page to get notified of new cartoons.

All rights reserved, and content and cartoon © 2012 Donna Barstow.