Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day Break

Back in late 2006, ABC made a risky decision concerning one of their breakout dramas--Lost. Lost was a complex show: intricately scripted, with a large cast, shot on location in Hawaii while taking place literally around the world, heavy on special effects. Episodes were produced slowly, which meant that shows rolled out sporadically during the first two seasons, with lots of reruns sparking lots of viewer complaints.

So ABC tried something new in the fall of 2006. They launched the third season of Lost with six new episodes before putting the show on hiatus, and replaced it with a new series, another twisty, complex drama that played games with time in which every passing detail might mean more within the overall picture than first appeared. The new series would run for 12 weeks (thirteen hours including the two-hour pilot) and present a self-contained, complete story: beginning, middle and end.

That series was Day Break.

After the two hour pilot aired, I have to admit, I was worried for my favorite show. The pilot was so good, taut and action-packed compared to the relatively slow-moving Lost, that I worried that it would suffer the same fate as Boston Legal, which went on a "temporary" hiatus to allow Grey's Anatomy to launch in its timeslot. But Grey's Anatomy was a hit, leaving Boston Legal in limbo until space could be cleared in the schedule to give it a lesser slot. I didn't want that to happen to Lost.

As it turned out, I didn't need to worry, because Day Break ended up getting canceled after 6 episodes. Which sucks, because it was an excellent show. Luckily, the entire series is available on-line at Hulu.

Day Break stars Taye Diggs as Detective Brett Hopper, a good cop who is framed for the murder of an assistant district attorney he has never met. The case against him is airtight, it seems: the gun was found in his closet with his prints on it, a shirt with the victim's blood was found at his girlfriend's place, and the victim's wife claims she saw Hopper do it. Hopper is interrogated, held without bail, and shipped to the county jail.

Then mysterious men break into his cell during the night and haul Hopper to a rock quarry, where an even more mysterious man shows Hopper a video of his girlfriend being shot. The man threatens Hopper's sister and her children if Hopper does not confess to the murder. "Just remember: for every decision, there's a consequence," says the mysterious figure, channelling the Ghost of Authorial Message. "Decision. Consequence."

And then Hopper awakes the next morning, in bed with his girlfriend. Only it is the same as the morning before. Same time on the clock. Same pigeon at the window. Same garbage truck outside. Same traffic report about a spilled truckload of diapers.

The entire day is the same, except that Hopper now moves through it differently, learning new things about the conspiracy that's trying to trap him. And as he moves through each new day, making new choices based on his new knowledge, he changes the world around him. He's in a web on interconnecting events, and whenever he pulls a string here, it causes a vibration there.

He tries confronting. He tries escaping. He tries surrender. Some choices have better consequences and some have worse, but all choices reset the next day.

Except that some don't. When he helps his partner resolve a personal crisis, she awakes next iteration feeling "different," ready to resolve her problem without Hopper's prodding. And Hopper is given hope that if the day can change, the day can end. He just has to untangle the knots tied around him and reach the truth.

At thirteen hours, I think the show probably goes a little too long. I mean, I understand that the economics of American television demand a minimum thirteen episode order, but it felt a little padded.

Then again, compared to the bloated, overstretched monstrosities that X-Files and Prison Break became, Day Break was a model of storytelling economy. The mystery was deep, and thankfully had nothing to do with evil corporate barons, or evil Republicans trying to stack the Supreme Court, or evil NSA agents. Yes, there are corrupt public officials and politicians, but they aren't transparent right-wing strawmen, so I was glad of that.

And the cast is excellent. Taye Diggs makes a compelling lead, determined and good-hearted, yet believeable in his flaws. The supporting cast also does excellent work, especially Adam Baldwin (always a favorite) as an Internal Affairs agent who was Hopper's former partner, and also Hopper's girlfriend's ex-husband. Clayton Rohner gets a good turn also, as a crazy street vagrant who may not be as crazy as he appears.

So if your favorite show is on hiatus, and you're looking for something to fill a few empty hours, give Day Break a try. It was a great show that never found the audience it deserved, but it's still there, waiting for you to watch. Just like the sun coming up every morning.

No comments: