A world without adults is not a new concept in television. CW’s ‘The 100’ has been doing something like it since 2014, while Netflix has shows like ‘Between’ and ‘The Society.’ And on the first episode of ‘Daybreak,’ its in-your-face, comedic approach to the apocalypse leaving a world with no adults, doesn’t quite capture your interest on the get-go. But it hooks you in and by the fourth episode, you’re either all-in or you’re sure that it’s not your cup of tea.
But it’s definitely my kind of show.
Breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience directly, lead character Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford) is a consistent C-student and a Canadian transferee to Glendale, California and introduces us to the world of ‘Daybreak.’ Massive explosions have destroyed the world and released biological weapons that turned all the adults into flesh-eating zombies, leaving all the teens and children without adult supervision.
Josh is a loner with exceptional survival skills and he’s on a mad quest to find Sam Dean (the charming Sophie Simnett), the love of his life, who he was separated from on the night of the explosion. Now the world has been taken over by teens who have formed tribes akin to their cliques in high school. Most of the teens have adapted a ‘Mad Max’ aesthetic to comedic effect and they are not afraid to reference it.
In fact, along with the breaking of the fourth wall, the show is very meta and very self-aware that it’s a television series. This flippant style and brazen admission of its fictionality excuses the questions that might enter your head about the world building. The first five episodes is set to introduce us to Josh and the two companions he meets on the way in his search for Sam, and the show goes back and forth in time from present day apocalyptic Glendale to pre-apocalypse Glendale, so that we can see how the end of the world has changed our characters and to create deeper relationships moving forward.
Because for all its novelty of an apocalyptic world-without-adults concept that involves zombie-like creatures, ‘Daybreak’ carries a surprising punch as it functions as a commentary on the generation today. The show, in its first five episodes of its ten episode season, attempts to break down and understand social relationships of American teens in this era of the world breaking apart one news report at a time.
The first episode is a little jarring but as every episode ends, you become more and more interested and engaged in these characters--from Josh’s love sick outsider-turned-reluctant hero to his companions, Angelica and Wesley. Angelica is a 10-year old child genius who is also a pyromaniac (and so much more) and she’s a kid Josh babysat thrice. Wesley used to bully Josh before the apocalypse, but now he’s turned into some weed-smoking, pacifist, gay samurai, who hopes to find redemption.
At the center of it all but never seen except in flashbacks is Sam. In the often cynical portrayal of the generation, Sam is a bright shining light, with her British accent and Sophie Simnet’s incredible ability to portray a genuinely kind-hearted person without being corny or contrived. She’s kind but she’s cool. And with her at the center of Josh’s quest, it’s a quest that you are truly interested to see how it plays out.
While Josh opens the show’s first two episodes, each character seems to have their own moment to control the narrative, and they all have their own specific style of breaking the fourth wall. The show never takes the reality seriously but it never scrimps on character development and developing the relationships of Josh, Angelica, Wesley, and all the other interesting characters they meet along the way, allies and villains alike.
Shows like ‘Daybreak’ become important to understand the nuanced changes happening in the upcoming generations. Shows like these put on display their value systems and inner workings in juxtaposition with thoughts like the end of the world and death, which is not a very distant real-world concern when you think of the world that we live in now. It shows that there are certain things that remain the same -- social cliques, bullying, teenage insecurities -- but there are quite a lot of things that have changed -- a desensitization to vulgarity, sex, and violence, but also a heightened sense of sensitivity to people’s identity and being.
In its first five episodes, ‘Daybreak’ presents itself as not just any other post-apocalyptic show in a world without adults. It’s funny and touching and surprising. There are still so many unanswered questions like “where is Sam” and “why would biological weapons only target adults” and “will Josh unite the many tribes of Glendale?” Who knows? I’m excited to find out.
'Daybreak' Season 1 will be available on Netflix this October 24, 2019.