We all remember what high school was like. The cliques, the drama, the all-encompassing, never-ending slog of it all. Luckily, most of us (I assume) graduated and went into the world to become successful adults. In theory anyway. But what if the world ended with high school? And I don’t mean your social life, I mean the entire world.

That’s the premise of Daybreak, the upcoming comedy-drama saga from Netflix. On the evening of Homecoming, that ubiquitous American tradition, an unspecified nuclear power decides to bomb the crap out of Glendale, California, and presumably the rest of the world. For those that survived the initial blast, life gets pretty weird.

Thanks to something in the bombs, most of the survivors of the Apocalypse are teenagers. The adults either turned into piles of goo, or became shambling zombie figures called ghoulies, while all the animals mutated.

The battle lines are quickly drawn as teenagers gravitate back to their own cliques for survival, with groups like the Mad-Max style Jocks, and the Amazon-inspired Cheerleaders claiming turf and fighting for dominance. The only group we haven’t seen yet is the Anime Club, but I think I’m ok with that.

In the middle of all this is our protagonist, Josh Wheeler, played by Colin Ford (Under the Dome, Captain Marvel). Josh never really fit in with any of the groups in high school. He’s not Tennis Josh, Gay Josh or Other Gay Josh. He’s… just Josh, the every-man. Well, every-teen. As it stands, the apocalypse comes somewhat as a boon for our intrepid lone wolf, as he finally gets to be alone.

The one thing Josh’s idyllic post-apocalyptic life is missing is Sam Dean (Sophie Simnett), the most popular girl in Glendale High and Josh’s One True Love ™ . He’s on a mission to find Sam, and avoid other people as much as possible on his search.

It doesn’t stay like that for long though, as Josh reluctantly ends up accumulating a tribe of his own. Joining him on his quest are Angelica (Alyvia Alyn Lind), the pyromaniac child prodigy that Josh used to babysit, and Wesley Fists (Austin Crute), Josh’s former bully turned pacifist Samurai on a path to redemption.

So we have the standard tropes in Daybreak: an underdog that didn’t fit in, all the cliched cliques you remember from your school days, even a school principal (Matthew Broderick as Principal Burr) that endearingly cringes his way through being “woke”, as older generations tend to do. The storytelling in the first few episodes is also somewhat derivative. There’s fourth-wall breaking, rapid-fire contemporary jokes and commentary on society, alongside the standard exposition dumping. But for all that, I’ll tell you now, I’m really enjoying it.

I found the charm of Daybreak growing on me the more I watched it. For all the typical TV tropes it contains, it just works. After all, clichés become clichés for a reason, they all stem from a grain of truth. Daybreak takes simple concepts to the extreme, but nothing ever feels forced. And, while there are plenty of off-the-cuff jokes and comments, with a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them hard hitting truths, Daybreak is much like Josh himself, very upfront about who it is and what it wants to be.

Where Daybreak really comes into its own is with the varied stories that interweave with Josh’s and the perspective shifts and storytelling changes that happen as different characters are introduced. Not content to just tell Josh’s story in the five episodes we watched for the review screening, we also delved into the stories, backstories and minds of Josh’s companions, with the promise of more to come. Each character is more complex, rich and well-rounded than you are led to believe, which makes for fantastic entertainment.

Another surprisingly entertaining aspect of Daybreak is its ridiculously over-the-top gruesome violence. I’m not a fan of gore for gore’s sake, and in a zombie apocalypse-themed show there’s going to be a lot of gore. Daybreak pulls it off in a way that is so overblown it’s hilarious. It does carry a Mature Audiences rating for a reason!

My only real negative with Daybreak has been that it is slow to get going. For someone that’s very far removed from the experiences of the characters in the show (by at least a decade), I’m not exactly the target audience, so it took me a little while to get back into that sort of high-school mindset of “everything is black-and-white, no shades of grey”. By episode three it really starts to shine and introduce its own complexities, so it’s worth persevering through if you aren’t completely sold on the first episode. 

At first glance, Daybreak didn’t seem like the kind of show I would watch at all. I mean, ugh… teenagers. But I’m glad I did. It’s smart, it’s interesting, it’s got great characters and it’s a unique look at what would happen if the youths of today really did inherit the earth.

Daybreak releases globally on October 24, 2019.

Last Updated: October 17, 2019

Part Zombieland, somewhat samurai saga, sort-of coming-of-age comedy-drama, with a little hint of Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, Daybreak takes elements and ideas from all your favourite genres and mashes them together into a surprisingly thoughtful and enjoyable zombie apocalypse.

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