Thursday, May 24, 2012

Why NBC's "Awake" Needed to be Cancelled

I am a fan of actor BD Wong. So when I heard he was ending his position as Law and Order: SVU's Dr. Huang I was very sad. I was, however, excited to know he would be in a new show on NBC called "Awake."

Awake is a strange show about Detective Michael Britten who has been in a car accident and now he doesn't sleep. In fact, instead of sleeping he lives in two different worlds. In one world his wife lived, but his son died, and in the other his wife died and his son lived. The thing is, when he falls asleep in one world, he wakes up in another. Soon, parts of his cases begin overlapping. He is now solving both cases at the same time, using evidence from each life.

Unique concept, yeah? Too bad it hasn't worked out. It's being cancelled after just one season, and a lot of people are really upset about this.

Except apparently I'm in the minority; I really and truly understand why Awake was cancelled.

Television shows have three plots to them - a running subplot for the season, a running subplot for the series, and the plot. Think about it like a car. The television show is supposed to be the vehicle. It could be a simple number like a Subaru with minimal frills and add-ons (think of this like NCIS - what you see is what you get), or something really fancy with onboard navigation and other bells and whistles like the Infinity EX35 (I watch way too much Top Gear).

Either way, in every episode a different plot is driving the car. The subplot should be a respectful passenger riding shotgun - quiet, contributes to the conversation, is enjoyable to ride with, and doesn't dictate how the plot should be driving. The series subplot should be like the sleeping kid in the backseat. They're snoring softly so we don't forget they're there, but they're only contributing to the road trip by existing. In Awake, there is no season subplot, so the series subplot is sitting in the passenger seat and going on like an annoying backseat driver: It wants to drive the show instead of letting the plot do so.

Awake's subplot quickly took over the show, and the plot shifted into the passenger seat - bad move if you want the show to last. What we like about a subplot is that it runs the entire length of the series and we wait for it to be resolved. SyFi's Eureka does (soon to be "did") this brilliantly. The series subplot is an undercurrent of sexual tension between various characters and the friendships and relationships they form. Every season of Eureka has a different subplot to it that just happens to be there. Last season it was a preparation for the Astraeus mission. It quietly sat there, existing but allowing other plots (like Eureka's bank literally floating away) to be the primary focus of the episode. 

Awake quickly became all about the subplot of Britten's condition instead of about the cases he was solving. The subplot developed too quickly - the series finale was tonight and there wasn't much of a surprise twist to me, despite promises that it would have one. I guessed the ending about six weeks or so ago.

Awake could have been a hit. It had all of the potential to do so. It had an undercurrent of conspiracy theories (like the X-Files), a bit of something unusual (the quantum mechanics theory known as the Many-Worlds Interpretation), and a potential for a great crime drama. It's a shame the subplot took over. I would have loved to have seen how the writers planned on developing the concept. 

Awake would have been fantastic as a mini-series, not a multi-season show. 

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Help, The Stash is Attacking! When Yarn, Knitting and Growing Up Go Terribly Awry by Kimberly Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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