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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  Partly Cloudy
Arts
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It's only a dream… Or maybe not in the mind-bending Awake
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<i>Awake</i> is downbeat, though somehow not a downer.
Awake is downbeat, though somehow not a downer.

The new drama Awake (Thursday, 9 p.m., NBC) rivals The Twilight Zone with its reality-bending premise. Detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) wakes up from a family car crash to find that his wife (Laura Allen) has survived and his son (Dylan Minnette) has died. When he goes to sleep, though, he finds himself in an alternate reality in which his wife has died and his son has survived. Each scenario has its own therapist insisting that the current reality is the true one. Meanwhile, Michael investigates crimes in each "waking" state, with help from clues that overlap from his "dreams."

Needless to say, the therapists in each reality think he's crazy. Maybe he is.

In a brilliant performance, Isaacs makes you feel Michael's confusion, pain and yearning. Awake is downbeat, though somehow not a downer. Like the hero, you feel that you're trapped between fantasy and reality. And that's a fascinating place to be.

One thing you have to wonder: Can the series possibly sustain this high concept? After all, the alternate realities of The Twilight Zone lasted just one episode apiece. You can only dream about where the filmmakers are going to take this thing.

Judging from the pilot, though, they have a knack for making dreams come true.

Deadly Sins
Saturday, 8 pm (Investigation Discovery)

Sometimes you're just not in the mood for an enlightening PBS documentary. You're in the mood for a true-crime story with no redeeming value. That's what Investigation Discovery is here for.

The network's new Deadly Sins delves into real cases using the seven deadly sins as a corny-but-effective organizing principle. One episode, for example, tells the story of two women willing to kill for GREED. We witness the murders, one of them accomplished by the old TV-in-the-hot-tub electrocution trick. We watch the inevitable scenes of coke-snorting in bras and fur coats. And we hear this kind of tease at the commercial break: "But this twisted tale is about to take a turn that no one saw coming!"

If you can switch to an enlightening PBS documentary after that, you're a better human being than I am.

Jerseylicious
Sunday, 7 pm (Style)

The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Shore, The Sopranos - TV has typecast New Jersey as the land of excess. We all know that, in real life, the state has plenty of citizens with quiet good taste. Just don't expect to see any of them in Jerseylicious, the reality series about over-the-top hair-salon culture in Green Brook. "We like things big in Jersey," says one of the stylist-heroines. "Big buildings. Big cars. Big boobs. Big food. And mostly big hair."

The only small things in Jerseylicious are the brains. In season four, Tracy makes the unwise decision to go back with Frankie because "he has huge arms." Gayle mindlessly tussles with rival salon owner Cathy - "Jersey Alien vs. Jersey Predator," as employee Olivia puts it.

That line tips you off to the series' approach: It's self-aware and, I'm guessing, practically scripted. The characters play up their outrageousness, all in the name of fun. Jerseylicious is less a reality series than a clown show - and who doesn't love clown shows?

"Look, you have two choices," says Olivia, showing someone an extravagant dress and a crazily extravagant one. "Glamorous or Jersey."

I'll take Jersey.

Army Wives
Sunday, 8 pm (Lifetime)

Beginning its sixth season, Army Wives is the most successful series in Lifetime's history. It's easy to see why: The men, women and kids on this Army base are a pleasure to hang out with. Army Wives is a soap opera, but a dignified one, featuring characters who make sacrifices to serve their country.

The season premiere reminds us how tough and resourceful most of them are. Fort Marshall is being decommissioned, meaning the longtime friends (Kim Delaney, Catherine Bell, Sally Pressman, Brigid Branagh, Wendy Davis) must say goodbye. It's a blow, but these women are adept at handling whatever life throws at them, albeit with occasional grumbling.

One of them, fretting about moving her children, is told that Army kids are resilient. "Resilient!" she snorts. "I'm beginning to hate that word!"

Funny - I'm beginning to love it.

Breakout Kings
Sunday, 9 pm (A&E)

Starting its second season, this drama pairs convicts with the U.S. Marshal's office to track down prison-breakers on the run. Breakout Kings is set in a pleasingly unreal universe, where escapees are likely to be geniuses and everybody from the cops to the criminals are gorgeous. For all the jokey banter, however, the series gets you involved in the chase, not to mention the dynamics of this unconventional team.

In the season premiere, another hunky mastermind escapes from prison and goes on a killing spree. He has a vendetta against team member Lloyd (Jimmi Simpson), the nerdy psychiatrist/con who testified against him in court. Just when I thought I was watching the episode with detached amusement, an unexpected tragedy struck, and I groaned involuntarily. Not until then did I realize how skillfully Breakout Kings had hooked me.

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