The adults are gone in the wake of a catastrophic event and teens rule what's left of society in Daybreak, a new post-apocalyptic teen dramedy from Netflix. With its whip-smart dialogue, killer soundtrack, and rich trove of sly pop culture references, the show is almost too smart for its own good. I say "almost," because this eclectic genre mashup turns out to be an outrageously over-the-top delight. If you liked Amazon's The Boys, chances are you'll like Daybreak, too.
(Some spoilers below, but no major twists are revealed.)
Daybreak is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Brian Ralph. His first graphic novel, Cave-In, was notable for having no words at all. Daybreak was groundbreaking in a different way, told entirely from the perspective (both narratively and visually) of an unnamed survivor to an apocalyptic event, breaking the fourth wall to address readers directly. The young man wakes up to find the world he once knew destroyed, before a one-armed man appears and takes him under his protective wing. They are joined by other survivors, teaming up to avoid zombie-like creatures that lurk in the shadows but are never fully shown. It's a quiet, understated post-apocalyptic story that has been described as "The Road meets Dawn of the Dead."
Created by Brad Peyton and Aron Eli Coleite, the Netflix TV adaptation is more "Mad Max meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off"—and in a nod to the latter, the original Ferris Bueller, Matthew Broderick, plays high school principal Michael Burr. Set in Glendale, California, our main protagonist is high school student Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford), who transfers to Glendale High right before a nuclear bomb/biological weapon combination hits the region. The few surviving adults have become "Ghoulies," doomed to crave human flesh and wander aimlessly in search of food while muttering the last thing they said before the bomb hit ("Why so many superhero movies?").
With no adult supervision, the teens stick with what they know, grouping into "tribes" based on stereotypical high school cliques to survive. The Jocks dominate all the other tribes, led by the brutal former star quarterback, Turbo "Bro Jock" Pokaski (Cody Kearsley), and his right hand, Mona Lisa (Jeante Godlock). There are also the Cheermazons, STEM Punks, 4H Club, Game Overs, Disciples of Kardashia, and so forth. It works about as well as you'd expect from teens with no governing experience who have watched way too many movies. Punishment is meted out according to the rules of ancient Rome, except the accused must perform onstage for "American Ninja Idol," hoping Turbo gives them a thumbs up to spare their lives.