NBC's struggling Awake might not be long for this world, but before it goes it would like to remind you of its philosophy. That's what it did in "Game Day," last night's fairly mediocre episode. As I've said before, Awake is at its best when it accomplishes the difficult task of incorporating all of its elements—surreal mystery, existentialism, family drama—into one hour. "Game Day" brushed each these topics, but spent most of its time in procedural mode before throwing in an interesting twist at the end.
It was the day of the big Ricky's Tacos Bowl game in Los Angeles, as the Seattle L'Jacks took on the L.A. Bulldogs, I think. (Is there anything more annoying than fictional sports teams?) The game came down to one last field goal: If the kicker made it, L.A. would wins; a miss and Seattle would emerge victorious. Well, the kicker was Adam Vinatieri in the red reality (it's good!) and Scott Norwood in the green reality (pushed it right), showing that Michael's pair of realities can contain different outcomes to similar events.
It was an interesting topic to explore, but it was also one we already had an idea of thanks to the superior "Kate is Enough," which explored the same concept in a much better way. "Game Day" might have been more successful if the small difference that affected a greater outcome, in this case a matter of inches on the field goal attempt, was a direct result of Michael's actions. I'm not saying Michael should have gone back to school and joined the football team, but if he'd been directly involved in whatever split the realities apart it would have added another layer to his ability or inability to shape his worlds. As it was, Michael seemed pretty detached and indifferent to the whole thing. Plus, things felt more heavy-handed than usual, practically spelling it out for us at times.
The two cases were remarkably similar in their outcomes. When L.A. won, a gambler (played by Dr. Marvin Candle) lost (wordplay not intended but conveniently placed) a bet for one hundred large. Dr. Edgar Halliwax's laundromat (so racist, JK) burned down after that, conveniently providing him with a million dollars in insurance money. Except oops... one of his employees was in the building at the time and got barbecued—to death! Naturally, all eyes were on him for insurance fraud. In the reality where Seattle won, the case was simpler. A total jerk Seattle fan got beaten up in the parking lot—to death!
As Michael explored both mysteries, the cases unfolded like they do on most standard procedural shows, with cops chasing suspects that the audience knows aren't the bad guys. Both ended in twists as people close to the victims turned out to be the culprits. In the red reality, it was Dr. Pierre Chang's wife who hired a kid to burn down the laundromat for the insurance money. In Greensburgh, it was the victim's bullied brother who snapped and killed his older sibling. Neither case rang emotionally for me, and when they were done they were just... done.
Elsewhere, Rex was having major emo issues because Emma had broken up with him and wasn't texting him back. It turned out that Rex had been a busy kid, and Emma was hiding the fact that she got pregnant before the car accident. But before Rex got a chance to pick out a baby name, Emma told him she lost the child (in a miscarriage sense, not in a crowded supermarket sense). Rex went to Michael with that info, and a light bulb popped up over Michael's head: If the football had moved a few inches in one reality, then maybe Rex's lovechild was still kickin'. Sure enough, Rex-less Emma was pregnant, and the possibility of being a grandparent might just be enough to prevent Michael and Hannah from moving to Oregon.
I'm much more interested in Awake the series than I am in Awake the procedural, so I didn't get much out of "Game Day" other than a potential wrench in the moving-to-Portland plans. Awake is such an intelligent show that I always hope to learn something new or at least tweak my thinking after every episode. "Game Day" didn't really have any of those moments, choosing instead to recycle ideas the series has already covered.
– How adorable was Vega wanting to set up a going away party for Michael? Awww, Vega. You almost make me forget that you are Wilmer Valderrama.
– When they were trying to put the red hat on the dead guy, all I could think was, "If the hat don't fit, you must acquit!"
– Aww, come on Michael. Vetiver isn't "depressing music." That was one of their livelier songs, too!
– A good sign that NBC likes what's coming up in the remainder of the season: Earlier this week, the network sent out advanced press screeners of the next three episodes. Theoretically, NBC is hoping the media will watch the rest of the season early and encourage people to tune in.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom