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Primal Screen: Getting 'Jerseylicious' with Jason Isaacs

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Awake (9pm Thu, NBC)

This new drama 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 only 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 (8pm Sat, 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. The premiere episode mixes archival footage, interviews, and dramatic reenactments to tell 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 (7pm Sun, 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?

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