Watching the “Day Break”

(yes, the series title is two words)

It’s Groundhog Day – the series.

What?  You need more?  Oh alright.

(note, part 1 is about a general talk of the show, what follows after the score is a more detailed analysis of how problems with it turned to advantages)

Groundhog Day could be interpreted as a Hindu/Buddhist retelling of Faust.  That is: a man who is given great power but find himself trapped until he eventually learns to turn his power to the benefit of others, at which point he becomes free. (well – some versions of Faust’s tale, anyway)  In that manner, Day Break could be viewed as a Hindu/Buddhist retelling of the story of Joseph (from the Old Testament): a man is trapped in unfortunate circumstances, yet can find a way out through what at first appears to be a curse… (high praise to whomever can provide more examples of tales following this manner)

So what’s separates this show from the movie? Bill Murray’s day started at 6am, while the protagonist’s day starts at 6:18.  There’s also two rules put in place that make this iteration different (one of these is established very early, the other a few episodes later):

  1. Changes to the protagonist (what I’ll call the “repeater”) carry over – especially wounds.  Which means if the repeater dies, he’s really dead.
  2. He can make changes to the day – or rather, to the people who act in the day.  If the repeater has a particularly powerful emotional moment with someone close to him (good or bad), what they do on the next iteration will change from what they would have done otherwise.

It’s impressive how strong the narrative runs with the addition of these two rules (otherwise there wouldn’t be much tension in watching a bunch of people who can’t really die).

In spite of (or addition too) pretty good acting, action sets, and plot, the strongest part of this series is the morality of it and the questions it brings up.  Why does the repeater keep fighting so hard to save the lives of people he knows will be alive when he wakes?  Because he’s never certain that they will.  He doesn’t know why he’s repeating nor when it will stop, so what if it ceases the one time he was cavalier with people’s lives?  Why does the repeater scream when his loved ones are shot, when he’s already seen it a few times?  Quite frankly, I would be suspicious of any man who EVER found the deaths of his loved ones easy to watch.  (If anything, having to watch them suffer and die over and over again would be a special kind of hell for most people.)  And why is any of this happening to him?

I don’t mean why does he repeat the same day, why are the events of that day happening to him?  The Christian concept of “all are fallen” or “you are a sinner” is a hard one to convey in modern times.  With history and current events at the beck and call of the internet, it’s quite easy for any person hearing something like this to pull up a story or account of some monster (Hitler being the most popular) and say, “___ is clearly a sinner.  You telling me that I am like ____?  I’m nothing like that!”  Which is quite true.  And it is hard to explain to someone that they are “bad” when there’s so many more examples of much worse people than they.  I think this show demonstrates the principle (not to mention a similar principle of Hinduism/Buddhism) in a manner that many modern people can grasp.  Namely, that however good or “not bad” you think you are; you could be a lot better.  The protagonist in Day Break is not a bad man (if anything, he’s one of the best, most upright people we know about), but he’s not been the best man he could be to his friends and family.  By show’s end, you get to see how if he had been better to his loved ones, a lot of the day would have never happened in the first place.  Indeed, even though he’s a decent enough chap at the beginning, at the conclusion of his character arc, the protagonist is a better man.

The plot’s quite intricate with a lot of threads running through (around… halfway through when an episode goes through its opening recap of events, they mention a particular thread which is your clue as to what loose end they will examining in that episode – towards the end, it’s VERY helpful) and more complex characters than it seems at first glance.  Surprisingly good writing from a little scifi show.

And on top of all that, the show has a hell of a pedigree when it comes to veteran scifi/fantasy actors.   Taye Diggs (Equilibrim) and Moon Bloodgood (Terminator 4) star along with Victoria Pratt (Mutant X, Cleopatra 2525), Adam Baldwin (everything, especially Firefly) even Ramon Rodriguez from Transformers 2.  Seriously, watch this show THEN go look up what what Ramon Rodriguez’s role in Trans2 was.  You’re head will explode.

Also, every day starts with a shirtless Taye Diggs and underwear clad Moon Bloodgood so there’s also some eye candy for everyone.

All in all I give this show…

If you don’t care for fantastical premises, you’ll probably take one or two shells off the score, as well if you just can’t stand some of the characters in it.  It is pretty good for writers to watch to see how the exact same characters can go from being very lovable and sympathetic to smug jerks the audience loathes.  I’d definitely recommend it to those interested in film making as – since most of the show is repeated scenes – you can really get a sense of how slight changes in lighting, acting, camera work, etc can completely alter the feel and impact of scenes.

It streams on netflix and you can get it off amazon for really cheap so give this overlooked gem a try.

And by all means once you’ve seen it, stop by and leave a comment, I’d love to discuss this show with someone else (tell me your thoughts on why he stopped repeating, and I’ll tell you mine).

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Discussion of art to follow, which will probably be very boring, and spoilerific for everyone.  I’d really advise waiting until you’ve at least watched about half of it.

The older I get, the more I’m a firm believer that what makes good art great, is some kind of adversity or challenge to overcome.  As anyone can guess from just glancing at the episode list (or looking to where I said it above), this show ran for only 1 season: 13 episodes.  Did this hinder or hurt it?

In all honesty, I say the show was markedly improved by being cut.  Up till around… episode 7 (I think that’s the one, whichever is “What if he’s not alone?”) smart viewers can see where the show is building around a possible long stretch.  Rules are being laid down, answers are given, but usually at a cost of spawning more questions.  But really, how long could this series have lasted?

In addition to the character stuff, there are two main mysteries driving the narrative: who is behind his bad day?  how/why is he repeating this day?  Quite frankly, neither of those are quite enough to carry the series past a season.  Why?  Because the longer a mystery goes on, the more the audience begins to expect from the answer, until eventually, there’s NO possible answer that can be given which will be satisfying for even a majority of the audience.  The fact of the matter is, conspiracies don’t hold much affect for audiences any more – it’s just about all been done.  Pick something from the thriller genre at random (or switch on some talk radio) and there’s a high chance you’ll find some conspiracy plot involving even the president.  Throw a dart at the suspense/horror section, and you’ll probably hit something where the protagonist is the killer/monster/one-behind-it-all.  By this point, we’ve just about seen it all.  Judges, corporations, lawyers, cops, politicians, EVERYBODY has had some conspiracy story where they’re behind it (except for possibly janitors) so I think the audience is just too jaded for there to ever be a satisfying answer to “who’s behind it all”.  Thirteen hours isn’t too much to have audiences watch as to how all the pieces fit together, but more than one season would made it all too much to bear.  Why is the protagonist repeating the day in the first place?  By now, everyone’s seen some mystery and have already picked three choices: Aliens, Wizards or God.  The longer the show takes to keep the answer from us, the more frustrated the audience becomes as it seems to be teasing a new possibility, but we all know it’s going to be one of the three so just tell us already!  But of course, Groundhog Day worked great by never having a reason given, and Day Break works just as well.  Or rather, there’s a reason hinted…

Now by the end even you are starting to get tired of the day.  What would they have done had another season been greenlit?  Keep the same day?  Have the protagonist start repeating a new day?  Find a new protagonist?  No, by keeping the show to only one season, the writers and show makers were forced to keep the story tight, not waste our time, and reveal what they needed to in a timely manner.  Being confined to one season was the best thing anyone could have done for Day Break, and by the end, one can’t help but wonder how much better Lost would have been had it been restricted to fewer seasons.

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