About once a year, a series comes along that scares me. Not because it’s particularly spooky, but because of how much I love it. In those moments, I’m worried I’m being just a little bit overzealous. That happened when I previewed On My Block in 2018 and Russian Doll earlier this year. Both series went on to enjoy critical and social media acclaim. Well, Netflix’s genre-hopping teen apocalypse adventure Daybreak, premiering Thursday, October 24, is the latest show I felt so very passionate about.
Daybreak is poised to be Netflix’s next great viral sensation. You just have to open your heart to its gleefully weird sensibilities.
The YA series follows Josh Wheeler (burgeoning Internet bae Colin Ford), an unfailingly average Glendale, CA high school boy. Or at least Josh was average before the apocalypse hit. Now, after life as we know it has come to an end, the suburban teen has to be extraordinary if he wants to survive and find the girl he loves, Samaira “Sam” Dean (Sophie Simnett). In the chaos of armageddon, Daybreak’s star-crossed lovers were thrown to the post-apocalyptic winds.
A lesser show would make Daybreak about figuring out what caused the apocalypse or how to turn back the hands of time to make the world what it was. Daybreak couldn't care less about those very self-conscious Puzzle Box Show-y constraints. Instead, this is a series that revels in the possibility of the end of the world. Particularly in the brand of dystopia Daybreak serves. Here, for some unknown reason, the dramedy’s civilization-ending event seemingly killed everyone over the age of 18 or left them as braindead zombies doomed to repeat their last inane thought forever. Saying “I should cancel my Facebook account. It’s too divisive,” for the rest of eternity may be a fate worse than death.
In the face of these bummer adults, Daybreak focuses its attention on the kids who survived. When the teens of The Society were left to fend for themselves without adult supervision they turned to debates about governmental structure, communism, and rule of law. It was a shockingly mature reaction for a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds. The youths of Daybreak do not follow suit. Here, Glendale High’s students crumble into anarchic, murderous clan in-fighting basically immediately. It’s a delightfully extravagant spectacle.
The jocks have a kingdom led by a conqueror who would make Mad Max’s Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) proud. His name is Turbo Bro Jock (Riverdale alum Cody Kearsley), and he has many, many feelings. More than half of them are rage. An early in the series Easter egg confirms Daybreak is aware of how much it owes George Miller’s 2015 weirdo dystopian epic. Outside of Turbo’s realm, there are cheerleaders with beauty looks so fierce the Euphoria cast would be jealous, entire empires built in reverence of the Kardashians, and a pack of the most annoying “athletes” known to man. Josh, our winsome hero, falls into none of these groups.
That is why the teen dramedy is as much about the shockingly fun opportunities of the apocalypse as it is about finding the family you want rather than the one you’re tossed into. For reasons no one should spoil, Josh eventually ends up traversing this new and dangerous Glendale with Angelica (Alyvia Alyn Lind), a pyromaniac child, and Wesley Fists (Austin Crute), the best-named new character of the year and a sword-wielding martial arts expert.
Like Josh, Angelica and Wesley are lonely souls initially wandering the wasteland of their hometown solo. Together they make a genuinely good team. Although Josh is Daybreak’s main protagonist (see: his very Ferris Bueller-esque fourth wall-breaking quips to camera), Angelica and Wesley both get their own episodes to lead. After spending a day in Angelica and Wesley’s shoes, they evolve far beyond the role of sidekick to the square-jawed white lead. We get into the mental health struggles, racial binds, and essential yearning that make these people the characters we see today.
Both Angelica and Wesley are cooler than Josh, and Daybreak isn’t afraid to tell you as much. One of their bound-for-Tumblr-greatness plotlines really drives that point home.
Considering that fact, one could drag Daybreak for choosing a light-eyed hunky white 20something to lead a series about what happens when all of society is destroyed and rebuilt. Especially when his character spends so time pining for a conventionally beautiful blonde girl like Sam. But Daybreak appears ready to respond to those critiques. First off all, the meta-loving series seems destined to invert everything we know about Sam Dean in season 1's final five episodes, which weren’t made available to critics.
Then there is Colin Ford.
Ford is so damn charismatic as Daybreak’s own Ferris Bueller it’s easy to understand the casting decision. Ford, 23, first burst onto our television screens 13 years ago while playing a young Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) on Supernatural. It is a role Ford would continue on and off for nine years, making viewers sob throughout his tenure in a manner usually saved for the adult Winchester brothers. There have been five Young Sams over Supernatural’s 15-season run. Fans only remember Ford. In fact he is the only repeat Young Sam in Supernatural history. It seems inevitable Ford would follow in the footsteps of Jared Padalecki, who led Gilmore Girls and Supernatural by the time he was 23.
Supernatural eventually became the backbone of the CW’s lineup. It’s time to see if Daybreak can do the same for Netflix’s sprawling teen empire — Josh Wheeler & Co. certainly have the Samurai swords necessary to protect their throne.