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NBC's "Awake" has a remarkably simple, totally bizarre premise.

As it begins (Thursday, March 1, at 9 p.m. on NBC/Ch. 5), homicide detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is in a horrible car accident with his wife, Hannah (Laura Allen), and son, Rex (Dylan Minnette). Flash forward, and he's struggling with the death of his son. He's seeing a therapist, Dr. Lee (BD Wong).

But when he falls asleep, he enters a second reality where his wife is dead and his son is alive. And he's seeing a different therapist, Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones).

"We come up with all sorts of ways to cope with the loss of a loved one," Dr. Evans says.

"I don't ever think I've seen a coping mechanism quite like it," Dr. Lee says.

"It all seems completely real to me," Michael says.

If that's not odd enough, Michael investigates parallel cases in the two realities — and the events in one help him solve the crime in the other.

It's sort of two tortured-cop shows in one. We don't know which one is real, and we aren't going to find out anytime soon, because that's not what the show is about.

"This is actually a show about a man who is actively living in two worlds," said executive producer/creator Kyle Killen. "The drama is that he's a man in the middle trying to keep a foot in both of them as they separate. Seeing those two worlds grow and change and become fuller and more real and markedly different over multiple seasons is really more what the experience of watching this show will be than a nagging question about — how will it end?"

That's a lot to ask of the audience. And "Awake" is not a show that you can watch casually — you need to sit down and pay attention or you'll be lost.

Isaacs, however, said, "In some ways, it's less of a stretch of the imagination than anything I've ever done."

Given that he's perhaps best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movies — maybe so. "I have a real life with my wife, and I've lost my son," Isaacs said of his character. "I have to experience all the things that go with that. I close my eyes, and I'm in another real world just as real."

As to how this might all end, Killen sounds as if he hasn't decided himself.

"There's a hundred ways out, but my guess is that 99 of them are unsatisfying to some large portion of the population," said Killen, who added there's "a lot of debate" among the writers.

"I personally I think 'It was all a dream' is not particularly satisfying. So we'll work hard to at least avoid frustrating ourselves. And, hopefully, entertain you, should we have the opportunity to wrap it all up eight or nine years from now."

That would certainly be his dream outcome.

Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.