Zombies, High School and Love: Netflix’s “Daybreak” Breaks Tropes


Aubrey Brumblow

Image credit to Netflix.

On October 24, 2019, Netflix released their 10-episode teen apocalyptic drama series“Daybreak.” Based on the comic series by Brian Ralph, the story is about how a nuclear bomb wipes out almost everyone over the age of 18—or makes them zombies, also known as “ghoulies.” 

However, there’s a high school twist to this undead tale.


Meet former Glendale High School C-student Josh Wheeler. No, not Tennis Josh. Not Little Josh with the big truck. No, not even Gay Josh or Other Gay Josh. Just Josh. He tells you early on that the apocalypse is the best thing that ever happened to him.

He’s got almost everything: freedom, survival skills, you name it. The one thing he’s missing? His girlfriend, Sam Dean, who he was separated from the day the bomb with the virus hit.

(Side note: Josh Wheeler is played by Colin Ford, who played young Sam Winchester in “Supernatural”—and his girlfriend’s name is Sam Dean. Coincidence?)

The show switches between flashbacks and present day, showing how characters have grown or degenerated since the virus hit. In this world, cliques rule territories like gangs, led by an unstable Mad-Max-style jock named Turbo.

During his quest to find and save Sam and get a house in Montrose, Josh stumbles across some unlikely friends he’s reluctant to trust who want to join up with him—Angelica, a pyromaniac girl he used to babysit, and Wesley Fists, a former bully now on a path of redemption. They might just make a wise-cracking, apocalypse-surviving team. 

However, in order to get to Sam, Josh will have to fight the potentially psychotic Turbo and the mysterious motorcycle-riding ghoulie known as Baron Triumph. 

Oh, and also mutant pugs.


The strength of “Daybreak” has nothing to do with zombies or the end of the world. It has to do with life and how you live it and the characters and the choices they make. You really will come to love the characters, even if they seem silly when you first meet them.

If you like humor, gore and good characterization, then this is your show. The show really plays with tropes in a variety of ways.

While Josh is most frequently the narrator, almost every episode is told from the perspective of a new character, giving them remarkable depth for a teen apocalyptic comedy. There is one episode from Angelica about her attempt to fit in despite being an evil genius; one episode from Wesley on why he’s in love with a villain and loves martial arts so much; and a host of other interesting backstories.

Contrary to the clique-y setup of the world, none of the main cast are reduced to only stereotypes. That’s pretty awesome.

One later episode comes from Sam’s point-of-view and provides an absolute turning point in how the audience will view her relationship with Josh and, thus, the series. Is she really the manic pixie girl of his dreams? Is she cold and unsympathetic? Or is she a strong character on her own?

Creator Aron Eli Coleite discussed this divide in opinion in an interview with IndieWire: “When we first saw the cut of Episode 8, some people were like, ‘I hate Josh’ and other people were like, ‘I hate Sam.’ And we thought, ‘This is fantastic.’ We don’t want you to feel a single way. We want there to be a choice in emotion.”

The end of season one will either leave fans on the edge of their seat with a grin or throwing popcorn at the screen in rage. 


Sometimes, the humor (and the show as a whole) tries a little too much. The show might be aware of that, but it doesn’t dilute the sense of it not working completely. At points, the characters spout lines obviously meant to be somewhat profound or snarky but that just don’t hit the mark because the lines are out of place. They read like the script said “INSERT WITTY TEEN QUOTE WITH RANDOM MODERN REFERENCE.”

Older viewers might wish the series was a little more serious or become a little lost from all the modern or more teen-specific slang and references. 


Others may be there only for the zombies and thus disappointed. These are not your traditional zombies, and they generally don’t get a lot of focus. They don’t even look like zombies. 

Basically, if you’re looking for dark and gritty, this show isn’t it for you.

Entirely a personal preference, but the emphasis on high school cliques is a little outdated.

Again, it has a divisive element when it comes to Sam and Josh’s relationship. Some fans will despise one or the other. Others will ship them until the end. That means half the viewers probably won’t be happy campers. 


Season one of “Daybreak” is a good start to what might become a very entertaining but also complex and moving show. 

Overall, Rotten Tomatoes’s Critics’ Consensus is spot-on: Daybreak‘s blend of soapy teen drama and post apocalyptic horror has some truly inspired moments, even if it feels like you’ve seen a few of them before.”

6 out of 10 stars