In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, ABC
In the UK: Bravo, starting in the Spring
Groundhog Day is one of those movies that has entered the vernacular. We all know what someone means when they say they're having a “Groundhog Day”. It's so all-pervasive and clever an idea, virtually every science fiction and fantasy show of the last decade, from Stargate SG-1 to Xena: Warrior Princess, has had its Groundhog Day episode, in which the lead keeps waking up on the same day, over and over again, until something's fixed.
I'll tell you one show that hasn't though: 24. Until now that is. Because in the great 12-week lull until Lost returns next year, ABC has given us Day Break, something that marries the excitement and tension of 24 with a day that just keeps repeating.
Plot (haven't you already read this on ABC's web site a couple of times already?)
Taye Diggs (Kevin Hill) stars in this action-packed thriller that takes a bad day and multiplies it by infinity. Detective Brett Hopper (Diggs) is having a hellacious day; the kind of day where nothing goes his way and he just can't wait to put it behind him... only he can't, because he's living the same day over and over again.
On this particular day, Hopper is accused of killing Assistant District Attorney Alberto Garza. He offers a solid alibi which no one believes. He realizes he's been framed. And he runs, discovering en route that not only he, but also his loved ones are in danger. He then wakes up and relives the same day over and over again. In order to break the cycle and move on, he has to figure out who framed him and solve the complex mystery surrounding Garza's death. He is also forced to heal the fractured relationships with those he loves. Either Hopper can break this day, or this day will break Hopper.
Caught in the vicious cycle of his horrific day is girlfriend Rita Shelten (Moon Bloodgood, Eight Below), who is the first to be sacrificed by the mysterious individuals out to frame Hopper; Rita's ex-husband and Hopper's ex-partner, Chad Shelten (Adam Baldwin, Independence Day, Serenity, Full Metal Jacket) - now with Internal Affairs - is jealous of the relationship and knows much more about what's going on than he's willing to admit; Hopper's sister, Jennifer Mathis (Meta Golding), not only has to deal with the abuses of her husband but is in danger as she and her children are used as pawns to get to her brother; Hopper's partner, Andrea Battle (Victoria Pratt, Mutant X, Cleopatra 2525), is under scrutiny by the department and Internal Affairs - can she be trusted?; and reputed gang leader Damien Ortiz (Ramon Rodriguez) discovers that his police-protected cover has been inexplicably blown and that he is somehow connected to Hopper's dilemma and now a target in the conspiracy.
Only when Hopper figures out why his life is broken and how to fix it will he awaken to a brand new day. He will not only try to save himself but those close to him who are now in danger. But he must carefully weigh each decision he makes, as all will have consequences -- advantageous or disastrous.
Is it any good?
Actually, I was quite impressed. It's certainly ticking along at a faster rate than Lost. And they've clearly thought through the problems the rules of Groundhog Day present to the action genre and worked out ways around them. For one thing, if our hero is injured, he keeps that injury over onto the next day, making it harder and harder for him to claim he had nothing to do with the DA's murder and that he was at home with his girlfriend all night. Oh yeah? How did you get that wound then? They've also decided not to end each day at the end of an episode, meaning each episode doesn't feel the same as the last one.
It's all a little bit confusing, but only a little bit. There's not too much expository dialogue at first, so relationships that are a given to the characters aren't explained, any more than they would be in a normal day. But as the day rewinds and different interactions occur, we build up more and more information about who everyone is, what they want, who they work for and whether they can be trusted.
As with Life on Mars, we have no idea why our hero has been stuck in this particular time warp and neither does he. There's no sign of sci-fi at the moment, just conspiracies and plenty of shooting, so the possibility that this is all going to be a coma dream lurks, ready to disappoint us, just over the horizon. But since Groundhog Day never explained itself, perhaps Day Break will opt for the same “Woah! That was weird!” get-out clause in the final episode.
The direction's a little bit over-stylised, although it manages to keep the tension notched up to 100% the whole time. The acting's pretty serviceable. Taye Diggs' decision to shop at the “Captain Kirk Store of Velcro Tops That Come Off At a Moment's Notice” will no doubt endear himself to a sizeable portion of the audience. And the cast list is jammed full of sci-fi redoubtables - Victoria Pratt from Mutant X, Adam Baldwin from Firefly, Mitch Pileggi from The X-Files – so should attract a good following.
But with all these serial shows, such as Smith, Kidnapped, Runaway, et al getting cancelled, do you want to tie yourself to a show that might just end mid-season? Or indeed one that could go on forever? Well, the good news is that it's pretty much guaranteed to last only a season and for the full 12 episodes, judging by various CBS comments, so regard it as just a very tense, slightly long mini series and enjoy it. It's not bad at all. Not outstanding yet, but given it time.
You can watch a delightful trailer for the show from YouTube below, plus you can see the entire first act of the first episode over on the ABC site (yes, even you, UK readers).
Taye Diggs (Det. Brett Hopper)
Adam Baldwin (Chad Shelten)
Meta Golding (Jennifer Mathis)
Moon Bloodgood (Rita Shelten)
Ramon Rodriguez (Damien Ortiz)
Victoria Pratt (Andrea Battle)
Exec producer/creator: Paul Zbyszewski (After the Sunset)
Exec producer: Matthew Gross
Exec producer: Jeffrey Bell (Alias, Angel, The X-Files)
Exec producer: Rob Bowman
- November 23, 2006: Third-episode verdict: Day Break
My third-episode verdict on Day Break.
- December 11, 2006: Fifth-episode verdict: Day Break
My fifth-episode verdict on Day Break.