The 2003 end of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” left a creative void in television. The series brilliantly spoofed the overly done vampire genre by using smart humor and a massive amount of pop culture references. Filling that void is the new Netflix series “Daybreak.”
The series mixes the in-your-face teen comedy of movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with the raw energy of post-apocalyptic stories such as “Mad Max.” The two genres are at the different ends of the entertainment scale, but bringing them together creates the spark that make the show so explosively fun.
In post-apocalyptic Glendale, Calif., 17-year-old Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford) finds himself on his own. A nuclear blast during a high school homecoming football game wiped out the majority of those older than 18. The adults are left as zombielike creatures that walk around saying the last thing that was on their mind when the blast occurred.
The series bounces between Josh’s life pre-blast, where he’s trying to fit in as the new student at Glendale High School, and life after the blast, where his mission is to find the girl of his dreams, Sam Dean (Sophie Simnett) while avoiding the teen tribes who control various parts of the city.
Under the guidance of series creators Aron Eli Coleite (“Heroes”) and Brad Peyton (Dr. Dimensionpants”), “Daybreak” works on both levels. There’s all the typical angst of a teen tale when the story focuses on school days. Those elements then feed into the devastated world where everything is backwards.
It is easy to be drawn into both worlds because of Ford. Best known for playing the young Sam Winchester on “Supernatural,” he plays the role with the direct-to-camera style. It is both a good way to make the viewer feel like they are a part of the twisted tale while also opening up the story to the character’s inner monologue.
Ford brings the same kind of natural likability to the role that Matthew Broderick used in playing Ferris Bueller back in 1986. So far the situation looks unlikely, but if Ford needs pointers, Broderick’s first series regular role has him playing Glendale High School principal Michael Burr. The casting is part of the creative team’s clever blending of pop culture into the series, as Broderick’s Bueller was a nightmare for his school principal.
It would be unfair to reveal all the pop culture Easter eggs in the series, but pay attention to everything. For example, naming Josh’s love interest Sam Dean is a direct reference to “Supernatural,” as it is the first names of the Winchester brothers. Character names are a favorite gag for the writers. The clever writing isn’t limited to word play but also features jabs at many horror, post-apocalyptic and teen romance tropes.
Productions featuring zombies have slowly become the walking dead with storylines that tend to repeat: Find hiding place, get attacked, find new hiding place. “Daybreak” brings new life to the genre with writing so clever, a single viewing won’t be enough.