I wanted this show to be good.
Instead, "Daybreak" disappoints despite the actors’ best efforts and the show's endless onslaught of timely memes.
Released on Netflix in late October, "Daybreak" is a genre blend between a teenage coming-of-age story and "Mad Max" style post-apocalyptic sci-fi, with just a dash of YouTube meme culture. Only teenagers survived a biochemical/nuclear apocalypse, leaving adults as wandering "ghoulies" doomed to crave human flesh and to repeat their last thought. As such, the Gen Z traits and tenets become the mainstream.
The 10-episode series primarily follows protagonist Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford) as he navigates his first sexual relationships, high school cliques, grief and roving cannibals. Despite each episode running just shy of an hour — and despite at least three occasions of being outright disgusted by the show (a defecating pug comes to mind) — I managed to get through it.
Ultimately, "Daybreak" was more interesting as a cultural artifact than as a television show. Its coming-of-age themes, while interesting and surprisingly progressive, are barely explored, leaving most viewers disappointed and a few confused, best exemplified in episode eight.
While the entire series features flashbacks and monologues and all sorts of fourth-wall-breaking gimmicks, episode eight (titled "Post Mates") follows homecoming queen Samaira "Sam" Dean (Sophie Simnett) and Josh ditching class to make out and eat Chinese food.
As the two prepare to have sex, their differing views on modern love are clumsily expressed for the audience and its themes (and failings) are laid bare.
Sam believes that sex is an open-ended experience that should be explored with minimal caution. Josh believes that sex is inseparable from an exclusive and committed relationship and should be exclusive to maintain intimacy.
The two spend the entire 50 minutes essentially restating these claims, never exploring the nuance between their points and the consequences of their extreme viewpoints. This is the show's unforgivable sin.
"Daybreak" promises a lighthearted, funny experience to its audience, with the understanding that it will occasionally use that humor to discuss serious things like grief and intimacy. You’ll get the first promise of lighthearted humor, only to be insulted with the show's awkward dialogues.
The show’s payoff in the final two episodes is rewarding if you can last that long. The reward is delivered entirely on the backs of the actors, especially Matthew Broderick.
Known primarily from his own fourth-wall-breaking, coming-of-age story, the "Ferris Bueller" star is flawless in "Daybreak." Broderick plays Glendale High School’s Principal Burr, who tries his best to be "woke" and "positive" in a changing world full of cynical teenagers.
Austin Crute provides an additional standout performance throughout the show as Wesley Fists. A gay, black football player before the apocalypse, Fists wanders the wasteland of Glendale as a Ronin seeking redemption. Crute’s performance is witty, funny and never too exaggerated, a tendency almost every other major character falls into at least once.
Strong performances from the whole cast are coupled with excellent costume design and well put together sets that complement the show’s cartoony feel. But, because the show succeeds in all these places and fails so poorly in the execution of its themes, it ultimately disappoints.
With the crew finally coming together at the end of the show, the main characters feeling comfortable with their role in the world, I was left wanting a second season. That’s under the condition the show dedicates itself to saying something substantive.
Justin Garcia is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Just516garc