Cop's nightmare, but 'Awake' is a dream

Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten stars in the

Jason Isaacs as Michael Britten stars in the recently canceled "Awake." (Credit: NBC)

THE SHOW "Awake"

WHEN|WHERE Thursday night at 10 on NBC/4

REASON TO WATCH Terrific new series with Jason Isaacs -- Lucious Malfoy from the "Harry Potter" movies -- as a cop with vivid dreams.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT LAPD detective Michael Britten (Isaacs) is involved in a terrible car accident that killed either his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen, "Terriers"), or 15-year-old son Rex (Dylan Minnette).

Which one? Beats Michael, because he is now living two separate realities -- one in which his wife is alive, another his son. In fact, one may be real, the other simply a very lucid dream. He has shrinks in each realm -- Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) -- trying to convince him that their world is real and the other but a dream. And he has partners in each -- Isaiah "Bird" Freeman (Steve Harris, "The Practice") and Efrem Vega (Wilmer Valderrama, "That '70s Show") -- who are just about as bewildered as you are right now. Michael, you see, uses clues or leads from one realm (or dream) to solve crimes in the other.

MY SAY The ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once famously awoke, uncertain whether he had just dreamed he was a butterfly or whether he was at that moment a butterfly dreaming he was a man. And if poor ol' Zhuangzi couldn't figure that one out, what hope is there for Michael Britten, or viewers, who also will be a bit befuddled at times?

NBC, in fact, pulled this one off the shelf a few months ago to (probably) work out that very problem; after all, not many cop procedurals are so deeply rooted in Eastern philosophy, Cartesian thought puzzles, or "The Matrix." But the results are promising. Well acted, smartly written and cleverly stitched together, "Awake" works on many levels -- both intellectual and emotional.

Foremost, it's a puzzle you are meant to work on just as much as Britten does. Plus, his bereavement and predicament are heartbreaking. He is a man who refuses to resolve his dilemma -- who is alive? who is dead? -- because he can't bear to know.

BOTTOM LINE Yup, the story can be downbeat, the pace at times languid. But this is a show with a brain and a heart. NBC finally has quality back on Thursday night at 10.

GRADE A-

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