Is anyone else tired of zombies as Big Baddies in post-apocalyptic stories? Perhaps I was already biased going into Netflix’s Daybreak because of my zombie fatigue, despite knowing little about the show aside from the trailer and what was covered in our Ani Bundel‘s New York Comic Con panel recap. But Daybreak isn’t technically about zombies — it’s about kids fighting “ghoulies” in Glendale, California after the world ends. The kids are (supposedly) alright, but the adults have been turned into flesh-hungry shades of their old selves. They’re like zombies, but not. I guess.
Based on the eponymous 2011 comic by Brian Ralph, Daybreak is a TV show that could have been unique eight years ago. In 2019, it feels retro in a bad way, and there’s nothing interesting about its premise, characters, or framing. The show is self-aware enough to know that spotlighting a straight, white male named Josh (Colin Ford) falls into exhausted genre trappings, but when it directly addresses that fact through a fourth-wall-breaking narration by 10 year-old Angelica (Alyvia Alyn), the commentary somehow falls flat. In fact, the first five episodes of this series — that’s as many as Netflix provided The Beat for review — fall flat in every way.
From poorly framed jokes about how slurs are bad (unless there’s just “no other way” to make fun of someone), to a gay romance that feeds into some nasty stereotypes about toxic masculinity, to a completely predictable “twist” involving one of the adult characters, Daybreak tries too hard to seem like it’s reinventing the wheel without doing any actual work to be subversive. Part Zombieland, part Battle Royale, this series sorely underutilizes its cast (which also includes Matthew Broderick and Booksmart‘s Austin Crute, the latter whom deserves much better) and relies on edgelord humor to make us think that the apocalypse is cool, actually, except for all the death and violence and stuff.
But wait! There’s more. Interspersed throughout the main storyline, which takes place post-apocalypse, are flashbacks to what came before, when Josh and Wesley (Crute) and Sam Dean (Sophie Simnett) were still just regular high school students. Each one plays like that Steve Buscemi meme from 30 Rock. You know the one.
Honestly, Daybreak is just disappointing. Relying on pop culture references and “relevant” content to make it seem more interesting makes the problem worse, not better. If you value your time, I suggest you skip this one if it shows up in your Netflix suggestions, but if you’re too curious not to at least check it out, the series drops Oct. 24, 2019.