Judge Clark Douglas takes lots of breaks during the day. Don't tell anyone.
Our review of Day Break: The Complete Series, published October 21st, 2009, is also available.
For every decision, there's a consequence.
Do you remember the film Groundhog Day? It starred Bill Murray as a guy who kept reliving the same day over and over and over. It was a funny movie, right? Well, imagine what Groundhog Day might have been like under different circumstances. What if Bill Murray had been an innocent man being framed for murder, and what if all kinds of law enforcement officers, gang members, hit men, and mobsters were trying to take him down? You might have something similar to Day Break. Does the idea of filtering Groundhog Day and Early Edition through the action-packed style of 24 work? Let's examine the case as presented in Day Break: The Complete Series.
Facts of the Case
For police detective Brett Hopper, it is just another ordinary morning…quite a pleasant morning, in fact. He wakes up in bed next to his loving girlfriend (Moon Bloodgood, Eight Below), takes a shower with her, and heads out to get a cup of coffee. Yeah, it's just another normal day. Then he goes back to his apartment, and is startled to find the place trashed. It's a wreck. Before he can say Jiminy Cricket (or Blueberry Pie, or Lickety-Split, or whatever phrase you prefer), cops burst into the room and arrest Brett. He's very confused, of course, and he is quickly informed that he is being charged with the murder of an assistant D.A.
The day only gets worse and worse. Thinking that there must be some sort of strange mistake, Brett is shocked to discover that very incriminating evidence was discovered in his apartment. There's a gun with his fingerprints on it, the very same gun that killed the D.A. It seems that this frame is being run by a very powerful crime syndicate, and if Brett attempts to do anything to get out of it, those he loves will be murdered.
It must be terrible trying to deal with the events of a day like that. Is it even more terrible to have to go through the whole thing again? The next morning, Brett wakes up, and it's the exact same day. The exact same things are happening. Brett remembers everything that happened the "previous day," but no one else seems to. Everyone who was hurt over the course of the day is perfectly fine. Every action that was taken the previous day has been undone. However, everything that happened the previous day is going to happen again, unless Brett can find a way to change things. Using his ever-increasing knowledge as this intense day repeats over and over, Brett tries to find a way to clear his name and find a way out of this cruel warp in time.
Thirteen episodes are spread across four discs, housed in three different slim plastic DVD cases (discs 3 and 4 are in the same case). Each episode title suggests what Brett might try, and the show proceeds to examine the consequences.
Sure, Day Break is a show that depends entirely on an unexplained gimmick. However, the gimmick works, and the creators of the show do a very impressive job of maintaining plot and structure consistency over the course of the entire series. The idea playing with shifts in time is by no means a new one: see the aforementioned Groundhog Day, the time-shifting Back to the Future series, the flash-forwarding Deja Vu, or even Early Edition, the show about the guy who got the next day's newspaper a day early. However, Day Break does manage to put this well-worn idea into a new format. By using the concept in the service of a modern, fast-paced action/suspense story, Day Break manages to seem a bit fresh. It's like looking at an old car that just got a new paint job.
In this sort of film or show, a lot depends on the charisma of the individual who happens to be stuck in the time warp. The people behind Day Break made a fine decision in picking Taye Diggs. Diggs is successfully able to portray a rugged, rough, smart superhero who is as easy to root for as Jack Bauer. He may be in a rather desperate situation, but he attacks the problem with a bulldog-like tenacity, rather than simply playing the frantic victim. He is as solid during the intimate dramatic moments as he is during the more physical action scenes. Diggs and the writers carry this show, giving it enough strength to make it worth watching.
Fortunately, there are a number of other attributes that help seal the deal. The supporting cast is pretty solid, and every actor is presented with some unique challenges. Over the course of most television programs, characters are required (at least, they should be) to grow, develop, and change. These characters (except Diggs, of course) each start at the exact same point each episode. Any variation in their reactions or behavior depends entirely on the triggers set off by Brett. I found it quite compelling to watch each character play the same scene over and over and over, adjusting (or not) their actions and reactions to specific information they receive. Of all the players, a few really stand out. Moon Bloodgood (who starred in the sort-of-similar but not as interesting Journeyman recently) is solid in what is probably the second-largest role. In some episodes, she seems entirely supportive; in others she is quick to act skeptical. Much of this depends on the first impressions made at the beginning of the day. Adam Baldwin is smarmy and smug as Brett's ex-partner, but reveals different sides of his character from episode to episode. Again, it's a different type of character study. We learn a lot about people, seeing which ones respond consistently in a particular way, and which ones vary wildly from situation to situation.
The show also gets serious points for coming to a cathartic and satisfying conclusion. Considering that Day Break was cancelled quite quickly, you might think that the remaining episodes would only leave you hanging. Not so. During the final three episodes in particular, the show becomes very strong and heads toward a terrific finale. You can see where Day Break might have gone if there had been a second season, but considering that this is all there is, no one is going to feel unsatisfied with the way things wrap up.
In terms of extras, we are provided with some very generous supplements. Believe it or not, there is a commentary on every single episode (two commentaries on the first two episodes, bringing the total to fifteen). All kinds of people get to participate in these: directors, actors, writers, producers, everybody. There are at least three participants on each commentary, so things are always chatty and informative. Every single element of the show gets some serious time, it's a solid ten hours of information. Taye Diggs proves to be an exceptionally engaging and intelligent participant, in particular. Additionally, there are a few brief featurettes and interviews that only touch on very basic aspects of the show. These are fine, but the commentaries contain the real meat.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some may grow frustrated with the show for the very reason that I enjoyed it. Methodically, it plays the same scenes again and again, adding different shades to each one. Although progress is being made via Brett's personal investigation for the truth, the time frame keeps repeating over and over and over. I imagine that some may find this exasperating, and they will give up pretty quickly. Indeed, that is exactly what happened: The show only ran six episodes, and the remaining seven episodes of the season aired online. The structure causes the show to play out more like a miniseries; I don't know whether or not it actually could have lasted a whole lot longer than it did.
Additionally, some of the technical elements are less than ideal. While the action scenes are slick and well-staged, the jerky queasy-cam cinematography isn't very appealing. At times, the cameras seem to be going all Cloverfield on us without any particularly good reason, rather weakly attempting to add extra "edge" to the show. The DVD transfer is fine; it's just that the visuals themselves aren't very good at times. The same can be said for the sound, which spotlights a very banal percussion-heavy score by Mark Kilian.
It's a real shame Day Break was cancelled. This is a smart, exciting show that will reward viewers who are willing to be a little patient with it. Sadly, most viewers missed the very best episodes of the series, as the final episodes were only seen on the web. Hopefully this DVD collection will somewhat rectify this situation. These 13 episodes develop a very complete and satisfying story arc, and provide plenty of engaging action, drama, and suspense along the way. This is one of those rare quickly cancelled shows that I can heartily recommend.
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