By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com July 5, 2012 at 12:02PM
No one watched "Awake." No one was ever really likely to watch "Awake," a mind-bending police procedural from Kyle Killen, creator of the excellent, but immediately cancelled Fox show "Lone Star" from a few years back. The concept was... well, not really simple, which was part of the problem. Michael Britten is an LA detective whose wife Hannah died in a car crash a few months before, leaving him to look after his teenage son Rex. But when he goes to sleep, he wakes up in a subtly altered reality, where his wife survived the crash, but Rex died. And when he goes to sleep in that world, he wakes up again in the other. Unable to tell which is real and which is a dream, and unable to face the idea of living without one or the other, Michael tries to keep going in both, all the while solving cases which seem to bleed between the two realities; a clue from one helping find a killer in the other. It was a hugely ambitious concept, and one that only lived up to some of its potential, but the one thing that absolutely did succeed was the central performance of Jason Isaacs. The veteran has done fine work on TV that was ignored by the Emmys before, most notably as an Irish gangster on Showtime's "Brotherhood," but his turn in "Awake" was perhaps his most compelling yet, a man seemingly losing his sanity, and sort of revelling in that. It was a wonderfully human take on a show that could have threatened to become overly bleak, and Isaacs' light touch (a skill that too often he doesn't get to use) meant that Michael was always a fascinating, character without sinking into a mire of grief. The show's disastrous ratings saw it cancelled after a single season (it's unlikely it would have finished the run if NBC had anything else to put in the slot), and means that it won't make any headway in the awards race, but hopefully Isaacs' turn will live on.
This week's news that, despite the third season long having been thought to have been the conclusion for Kenny Fucking Powers and "Eastbound & Down," that creators Danny McBride, Ben Best and Jody Hill had signed a deal with HBO for a fourth, means that the cult comedy does have one more chance at awards after this year. But that doesn't change the fact that McBride might have been on his best-ever form for the third season, which saw Powers back in the U.S., confronted with a son, and a new sidekick, Shane (Jason Sudeikis). Powers, a major league washout constantly dreaming of a comeback, has been one of the worst human beings on television since the show debuted in 2009, but McBride's skill, like Ricky Gervais before him (the creators have long acknowledged their debt to "The Office"), is in giving humanity to his creation, making the viewer sympathetic even while not forgiving and forgetting the character's abominable, selfish behavior. And season three saw both the very worst of Kenny -- watching Shane fatally OD on coke, failing to call 911, finishing the drugs and stealing his truck -- and the best -- embracing maturity, breaking up with his college-age girlfriend, and walking away from his major league comeback for a new life with long-time love April and son Toby. And while we have mixed feelings both about the show's Kenny-is-dead fakeout and the wisdom of a fourth season, it'll be a treat to see McBride once again reprise the role he'll likely always be best known for, given that he was the height of his powers in season three; walking that line between man and monster expertly, and rarely being anything less than uproariously funny. It has precisely no chance of ever being recognized by Emmy voters, but that doesn't mean it wasn't one of the finest comic performances on TV in the last year.
It's no surprise that "Community" has not been an awards favorite so far; it's too much of a curate's egg to win over approval for a wider body of voters, particularly given the older demographic of Emmy voters. Why would they go for NBC's black sheep when "The Big Bang Theory" exists? And even if one actor snuck through, it's most likely to be the show's nominal lead Joel McHale. Which is a shame; not because McHale's not great on the show, but because his lesser-known co-star Danny Pudi is pulling off some of the finest acting on television week by week. The 33-year-old Pudi plays half-Palestinian half-Polish student Abed Nadir, a pop culture obsessive who helps to serve as a sort of commentary on the show's nature as a sitcom. And that aspect has helped Pudi deliver some of the show's biggest laughs, either through his double-act with fellow standout Donald Glover (most of the episodes close with a tag of the two messing around), or pop culture gags, like his astonishing Don Draper impersonation. But it's also his difficulty to connect with or even understand his friends, that has often been the emotional center of the show, and none more so than in this season's "Virtual Systems Analysis," a tour-de-force that saw Pudi impersonate the rest of the cast, as his friend Annie (Alison Brie, who played touchingly off her co-star) tries to delve into his psyche. It was an episode, like last seasons's staggering "My Dinner With Andre" parody "Critical Film Studies," which was truly nothing like else ever seen on TV, and Pudi was once again at the center. With the show likely not long for this world, this may be the last opportunity to honor the actor.