"Awake": The second ambitious, doomed show to come from Kyle Killen, the 2012 NBC series "Awake" at least got a full season, unlike its predecessor, "Lone Star," which was canceled after two episodes on Fox. "Awake" centers on LAPD detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs), who's caught between different worlds -- when he goes to sleep in one, he wakes up in the other. In both realities, he's in mourning, though in one it's his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) who passed away in a car accident, and in the other it's his son Rex (Dylan Minnette). Neither reality takes precedent, and in each he sees a shrink who knows about his problem and insists their world is the real one. It's an intriguing premise, and one that the series juggles well by having the larger questions about Michael's sanity and one reality being a dream underlie episode cases in which the details between the parallel universe begin overlap. The single season ends with a sense of closure but no definitive explanation for everything the show introduced -- fitting for a story that's as much about grief as about a conspiracy.
"Kolchak: The Night Stalker": This ABC series only ran for a single 1974–1975 season, but had a lasting influence, most notably on Chris Carter's "The X-Files." Darren McGavin plays Carl Kolchak, an irascible Chicago reporter with a tendency to stumble across supernatural or otherwise unexplainable mysteries. Vampires, werewolves, androids, ghosts and more turn up in these episodes, though Kolchak never seems to have much luck in pinning down lasting evidence to prove the world's a much freakier place than everyone else suspects. Despite the subject matter, the show has a consistent sense of humor, particularly in Kolchak's battles with his editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), that makes it a particular pleasure to watch despite certain dated qualities. A young David Chase, who'd go on to create "The Sopranos," served as a story editor on the show.
"The Beast": Another Chicago-set show that makes the city look rougher and chillier but, on the plus side, less supernaturally infested, this A&E series is notable for its lead turn by the late Patrick Swayze as Charles Barker, a veteran FBI agent with a questionable sense of morality. Swayze had already been diagnosed with stage IV cancer when he took on the role -- he passed away in the fall of 2009, the same year the show aired -- and his devotion to the role is apparent. As Barker, he's ferocious and haggard at once, an altogether different actor than the one who toplined Hollywood favorites like "Ghost" and "Point Break." "The Beast," which was created by Vincent Angell and William Rotko, is a fairly standard shady cop story that's reminiscent of "The Shield" or USA Network's "Graceland," but that's elevated by the heart and soul Swayze puts into the performance that turned out to be his last.
"The Good Guys": This 2010 Fox series aimed for a cartoonish action comedy tone more often seen in movies than in TV. Created by Matt Nix ("Burn Notice"), the series never met an over-the-top car chase or classic rock track it didn't like, and had an immensely endearing sense of fun. Adding to it is the presence of Bradley Whitford playing way against erudite, Aaron Sorkin-dictated type as Dan Stark, a dinosaur of a rule-breaking, hard-partying, mustachioed detective whose long-faded moment of glory involved saving the governor's son. Dan fully believes in the pursuit of law enforcement as an excuse to shoot his gun and to destroy property, and his zealousness is contrasted with his straight man parter Jack Bailey (Colin Hanks). Silly and good-natured, "The Good Guys" isn't a show you look to for in-depth characterization or social commentary, but for the easy enjoyment it delivers.
"Lights Out": Why didn't this FX boxing drama from Justin Zackham catch on? The series, which aired in 2011, attracted a decent amount of critical praise, especially for what should have been a starmaking performance from Holt McCallany's as Patrick "Lights" Leary, a retired boxer struggling to support his family after the economic crash wipes out their resources, being pressured to take on a job as a debt collector and, essentially, thug. Maybe it was that, even in our contemporary era of grim dramas, "Lights Out" is both a slow burn and pretty dark -- its hero begins the long journey back toward fighting shape having been diagnosed with pugilistic dementia, and the series makes no bones about how brutal the sport can be and how much Lights' health, mental and otherwise, is at stake. The show had a great supporting cast as well -- Catherine McCormack, Stacy Keach, "Orange is the New Black" star Pablo Schreiber and Bill Irwin all help build out the series' vision of New Jersey McMansions built on shaky foundations of financial insecurity. The final episode ends on a terrifcally mixed note.