A show as messy and unsubtle as its teenage subjects, Daybreak is an imperfect but highly enjoyable new Netflix series.
This review of Daybreak (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
Netflix’s new post-apocalyptic series Daybreak wasn’t made by teenagers, but you’d be forgiven for believing it was. And that isn’t as much of a criticism as it might seem. It’s a show about teens aimed pretty squarely at them, featuring the kind of swaggering self-confidence you can only possess when you’re not quite old enough to have figured out how little you know yet. It also has the low-brow potty humor and the unsubtle political rhetoric of a young-adult with something to say, even if it isn’t always worth listening to.
The concept, transplanted from Brian Ralph’s comic, is a clever if obvious one: A nuclear disaster has ravaged Glendale, California, turning most of the adult population into corpses and the rest into shambling zombies who’re cursed to repeat the last stupid thing they said. The kids left behind have assembled themselves into cliques and divided the city up into tribal lands such that it basically resembles a high-school cafeteria; here are the airhead Disciples of Kardashia, there are the domineering Jocks with their Road Warrior-inspired apparel. In the middle of this is Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford), a fourth-wall-breaking nobody whom the apocalypse has turned into a maverick free spirit having more fun than he ever has before.
That’s kind of the point of Daybreak Season 1 — it’s a coming-of-age story about young people learning to belong in a world that requires them to figure it out much more quickly than usual. Josh is on the hunt for his crush, Sam (Sophie Simnett), who he never shuts up about, but quickly finds himself teaming up with Jock-turned-self-styled samurai Wesley Fists (Austin Crute), ten-year-old home-schooled drug-dealing bomb enthusiast Angelica (Alyvia Alyn Land), the unfortunately-named annoying kid Eli Cardashyan (Gregory Kasyan), and one of his former teachers, Ms. Crumble (Krysta Rodriguez), whose name makes for a funny gag that I won’t spoil. As all of these people band together, come into conflict with other tribes and attempt to eke out a community in a local shopping mall, they encounter various roaming threats in the devastated wasteland, but also grapple with the usual stresses and anxieties of high-school life.
Daybreak was co-created by Aron Eli Coleite and Brad Peyton, who directed San Andreas and Rampage, and the show has some of the breakneck energy of those films. It rockets along and lurches back and forth between the present and clarifying flashbacks, as well as cycling each episode’s point-of-view character. You can’t fault it for pace, but you can fault it for cohesion; its irreverent tone and wacky attitudinal shifts can be jarring and not always effective, and it frequently leans on nostalgia for an era that most of its target audience will be too young to miss. It’s diverse but proudly, loudly so, which is equal parts welcome and grating, and its on-the-nose social satire plucks and flings low-hanging fruit with an enthusiasm I’m not sure is earned. But that confidence to just be whatever it feels like being is also pretty welcome. This is a show that is just as messy and unsubtle as its subjects, but it’s also a great deal of fun to be around. That seems about right.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.