High School Apocalypse
“Daybreak” on Netflix
A certain portion of Albuquerque’s population (the same folks still angry that “Breaking Bad” represents our city in most Americans’ minds) may be dismayed to find that ordinary old Albuquerque, N.M. is substituting for post-apocalyptic Glendale, Calif. in Netflix’s new series “Daybreak.” No, it’s not exactly a tourist brochure for The Duke City. But for most of us, how the film and TV industry envisions our town is just an amusing side note. Hey, as long as they’re bringing jobs and money, they can use our city as any kind of backdrop they like. (May I remind you that it has subbed for freaking Texas on more than one occasion? If we can weather that, we can weather a few mutant marauders.)
“Daybreak” is based (in spirit, anyway) on cartoonist Brian Ralph’s graphic novel of the same name. Our main character in this comicly post-apocalyptic world is 17-year-old high school outcast Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford from CBS’ “Under the Dome”). Josh recently moved from Canada to Glendale and is having a hard time fitting into the cliquish high school environment. He has, however, found a major crush in the form of popular nice girl Samaira “Sam” Dean (Sophie Simnett). Josh’s long-ranging plans to date, sleep with and eventually marry Sam are curtailed, however, when bombs start dropping all over California and the world as we know it comes to an end.
Surprisingly, Josh adjusts pretty well to life after the apocalypse. He’s always been kind of a loner. And his Canadian self-sufficiency serves him well. Somehow, the bombs that dropped mutated all of the adults into slavering zombies known as “ghoulies.” That leaves the kids to form Mad Max-style gangs based on their former allegiances. Jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, the 4-H: All of them have splintered off into their own murderous brigades patrolling the rubble of Glendale (or the streets of downtown Albuquerque, depending on how you look at it). But Josh has a goal, as he explains in his near-constant, third wall-breaking speeches to the audience: He’s determined to find the love of his life.
On his quest to locate Sam, Josh reluctantly finds himself joining forces with a self-styled “pacifist samurai” (Austin Crute), a 10-year-old genius with pronounced pyromaniac tendencies (Alyvia Alyn Lind), a semi-sentient half-ghoulie who used to be his biology teacher (Krysta Rodriguez, an energetic add-on to the teen-oriented cast) and a self-serving dork (Gregory Kasyan) who’s made the local shopping mall his kingdom (hello, Cottonwood Mall!).
For a show about the end of the world, “Daybreak” is colorful and cartoonish and filled with over-the-top characters. Josh’s monologue directed right into the camera comes straight out of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—a fact that “Daybreak” doesn’t even try to hide. The show’s poster of the laid-back main character mimics the poster for John Hughes’ 1986 classic, Josh’s dialogue steals a line or two from Hughes’ script on occasion and Ferris Bueller himself (Matthew Broderick) shows up in the pivotal role of the Glendale High principal.
For the most part, “Daybreak” counts primarily as comfort food for teenage audiences. It mixes together a lot of familiar elements, coming out the other end as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off combined with “The Walking Dead” with a dash of Night of the Comet tossed in for good measure. Though most of its time is spent in winking comic acknowledgment of its influences, the long run of the show takes time to explore its characters and their backstories, even reserving a smidgeon of emotional sympathy for its villains (lead by homicidal chief jock “Turbo”). The characters are still outsized and ridiculous, but they’re worth connecting to.
Again, it’s teenage, CW-loving audiences who will most readily respond to this mix of high school soapery, post-apocalyptic action and wiseacre comedy. But even ’80s-raised adults—particularly those curious to see how well their local Albuquerque neighborhood looks in shades of atomic destruction—might want to try “Daybreak” on for size.