Is “Awake” (9 p.m., NBC) a new cop drama? A psychological thriller? A fantasy? The only thing we know for certain is that it asks us to wonder where real life ends and dreams begin. And that’s just for starters.
‘‘Awake” begins with a horrible accident that sends a car containing Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), his son (Dylan Minnette) and wife (Laura Allen) hurtling down a ravine. In the following scenes we attend a funeral and then see Britten’s wife trying to cope with the loss of their son by redecorating their home. Britten buries himself in work with a new partner (Wilmer Valderrama). The force also assigns Britten to a therapist, Dr. John Lee (BD Wong), to work out his issues.
But when Britten goes to sleep, he enters a dream state where his wife has been killed and his son has survived. His partner is Detective Isaiah “Bird” Freeman (Steve Harris), and the police-assigned therapist is Dr. Judith Evans (Cherry Jones).
Both dream states appear to be real, or as real as each other. He confides in each therapist about the existence of the other. Clues from each world’s crimes seem eerily similar. His wife doesn’t want to hear about his parallel life with a still-living son. And Britten is in no hurry to be cured of a “madness” that allows him to cling to both loved ones.
‘‘Awake” is a smart and compelling drama with good performances all around. The photography’s super-saturated colors bring an elevated sense of reality to these dueling dream states. As good as “Awake” is, it would probably work best as a limited-run miniseries and not as a traditional TV drama airing week after week, presumably for years on end.
‘‘Lost” was mysterious and dark and it had a long run. But it had a huge cast that grew exponentially every time it found a new set of “others.” Living in Britten’s personal waking nightmare is simply too much to ask of a large television audience.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Rob’s dad puts on a charm offensive on the season finale of “Rob” (7:30 p.m., CBS).
• Finalists emerge on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Frank fools his mother on “30 Rock” (7 p.m., NBC).
• Retail calls on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).
• The 2010 documentary “Family Affair” (7 p.m., OWN) looks at a family’s history of violence and dysfunction.