I Binged Daybreak So You Don’t Have To
This is not a spoiler-free article. Don’t worry though, you’re not going to watch Daybreak anyway.
Daybreak is the new hyper-gen-Z zombie outbreak-slash-apocalypse-now tv series by Netflix. Reader, it’s not great. It’s not even...well, it might be good, but it’s not? It’s not. I swear it’s not good. Don’t ask me why I watched the entire series in three days in my very limited free time. It’s enough to know that I did, and it was not fantastic.
So here’s the plot: Boy meets girl. It’s cute. They like each other. At the very least it’s not a game of cat and mouse. These two teenagers actually want to be boyfriend-girlfriend, although such terms are never really used. So that happens, and then...the bombs drop. Biological psuedo-nuclear weapons turn every adult into a zombie. We can’t call them zombies though, it’s not cool enough; so they’re ghoulies which is...cooler, I guess?
In the wake of this extinction event, teenage cliques have turned into Mad Max gangs like the Cheermazons and Bro Jocks, and have divvied up their LA suburb into neighborhoods of control. There are outsiders, like our hero, Josh, who doesn’t fit into any of the gangs, but is on a mission to save his ex-girlfriend from...well..whatever trouble she’s gotten into. There’s his samurai best friend, Wesley Fists, a gay stoner with the hots for Turbo Bro Jock, leader of the opposition. The quirky sidekick is Anjelica, a pre-teen pyromaniac with an affection for broken people.
These characters are...fine, I guess? They’re all kinds of fun to watch in the moment, but are they cool? Are they funny? Would I want to hang out with them? Or even like...write about them? Do I want to look up fan-fiction of any of these zombie-killing kids? Do I care?
No. The answer is no. I don’t care. So why do I keep watching?
Josh’s ex is Sam Dean, a beloved social media influencer with a British accent whose superpowers are kindness, quirky wholesomeness, and a strange penchant for monologuing low-level feminist Tumblr thinker posts (women can have SEX with WHOEVER they want!) into average conversations. “There’s so many conditions on unconditional love,” is an actual quote she says at one point. It’s not good writing, you know. She’s usually upset because people think she’s cool, and now she’s gender-neutral prom royalty, and that’s worth getting angry about? Sure??? In general, as a character, she’s...fine? I guess?
There’s some back-and-forth between the pre-nuke Hollywood and the post-nuke warzone, but it never actually answers a lot of questions. Every episode breaks the fourth wall at least once, usually multiple times, and the ridiculous overlay of meme-expressions and bad in-jokes with the viewer like we’re friends is just not good! It’s not compelling!
There are different voice-overs, and there are some special effects that make this look like a weird derivative of Zombieland meets Scott Pilgrim but without any of their charms. There are even episodes titled, “Josh vs. The Apocalypse,” so you don’t get a more obvious homage than that.
The pros: Sam and Josh actually seem to like each other. That’s nice to see. I like it when the girl actually likes the boy. It’s cute. Wesley and Turbo’s love story is terrible and awful and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Wesley, in general, was the best character. No complaints. Turbo’s a good boy. A bad boy. But also, so fun to watch. Matthew Broderick is in this series as a School principal turned ghost-rider zombie named “Baron Triumph” so we’re all really keen on that. He’s an absolute fucking delight.
There’s a Witch of Glendale Mall whose story actually shows characterization and growth, as well as being Anjelica’s cheerleader-slash-mother figure. Mona Lisa is another character that I enjoyed in small doses. The Cheermazons were incredibly diverse, but in a way that felt like tokenism, so...we’ll label that a pro, even if it’s not quite...there.
The cons: Silent raves. The absolute entire soundtrack. Millennial writers trying to appeal to Gen Z, the entire 8th episode was...a disaster. The fact that Josh’s actor can’t really skateboard, or act. Eli Cardashayan as both a concept and a character, plus all of his dialogue was really just...not good. It wasn’t good. Jokes like, “you broke the Emma Gonzales accords” when a character used a gun. The final battle in episode ten was also just..weird??? A lot of teenagers were getting eaten. It was odd. Also, at the end, an arm bursts out of Matthew Broderick’s stomach when he dies. I have no idea why. I don’t get it. Wild.
The other thing that bothered me was the sheer amount of girl-power narrative bullshit that felt incredibly pandering at all times, which was THEN totally undercut by a weird love triangle where Sam was weirdly jealous of a girl she didn’t even know the name of. Every female character was guilty of the girl-power stupidity: Sam, Mona Lisa, and the Cheermazons were especially sinful mouthpieces for this absolute bullshit. At the end of it, Anjelica also does this in a fit of pique. I blame this on the fact that most of the episodes were written by men.
In addition, the ending. The last episode. Bad. Con. In the Con pile for real. An actual quote, “you inspired us,” followed by a flashback montage from the last nine episodes. Terrible decision. Also, the worst part: a mental Pokemon card match. Literally, two kids who were supposed to be born in like 2010, spouting off Pokemon card flavored text as if they would fucking know. What thirty-something is reliving their childhood? Who approved this?!
And then there is the filler episode that was genuinely a cringe-fest of narrative bullshit. The 8th episode starts out with a consent app. It’s almost adorable, but it’s kind of silly? I don’t get it. Is there a joke here? Is it funny? I wish I could say that a lot of this was baffling because “I’m Too Old,” but doubtless the writers are my age or older, so the generation gap isn’t really in effect here. Needless to say, the subsequent sex scene is suitably awkward and terrible, but at least it’s not titillating, right? That’s something? It’s not like Teen Wolf and Riverdale, which display twenty-somethings in negligee, that we’re totally okay watching writhe around because we all know none of them are actually underage.
Friends, viewers, writers, please note: The alternative to sexy teenagers in bed together isn’t awkward teenagers navigating their first time for twenty minutes while high and having discussions about satin sheets, leverage, and condom application. There must be another way to explain to audiences that teenagers are awkward and bad at sex and relationships.
There’s a lot of blood and broken bodies, and teenagers getting beaten up, and dropping the F-bomb all over, just for the sheer fun of saying fuck, more so than for actual effect. The plot is basic. It’s basic. Daybreak is a basic show with low production value, middling color grading, and kind of shitty beats. It’s not fun! It’s kind of half-baked! It’s masculine as HELL and unapologetic about it.
The ninth episode features a weird reconciliation scene with Josh’s father that we didn’t want, need, or realize was going to be the emotional climax of the series, until the episode before it happens. It makes so little narrative sense. It’s not satisfying at all, and the eventual reunion of Sam and Josh is... lackluster? There’s supposed to be a cliffhanger here, but dear God, just let it end. Put me out of my misery. Another bomb explodes and I just don’t care anymore. I so don’t. Why did I keep watching?? Why did I watch this entire series??
Daybreak was based on a comic book, and something must have been lost in translation. Whatever joy, panache, or cheeky dialogue that might have been crammed into the graphic novel, is sadly missed. Wesley sums it up pretty succinctly in the last episode: Daybreak is “loose on plot, and full of breakdancing ninja battles.”
And the explanation for how kids survived and adults didn’t...the school-funded HPV vaccine. Suck it anti-vaxxers. It makes...I mean, it’s a fantasy series. So I guess it makes sense. But is it fun? Is it enjoyable? Is it cool? Was it well thought out or was it just...a half-baked souffle that splooged out in less than three episodes?
God knows why I watched it, and God only knows why I enjoyed it.
Linda is a twenty-something millennial living and working in the Hudson Valley who loves fandom, pop culture, sailing, tarot cards, and crying in movie theaters. If you want to listen to them talk about pop culture, the repeating cycles of media, and those stories that we can’t get out of our heads, you can listen to their podcast, Retronym, on iTunes.