Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TV REVIEW: Day Break

After sitting through the two-hour premiere of the new ABC series, Day Break, a genre drama which finds a cop named Hopper (Taye Diggs) re-living the same tumultuous day over and over again, I'm experiencing a headache-inducing case of deja vu.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that a virtually identical concept was vetted thoroughly on another TV series called Tru Calling (Fox). Now, this may be a blatantly sexist comment, but if I'm going to be forced to watch endless repetitions of Ground Hog's Day on TV, please God, let Eliza Dushku be the star. Taye Diggs is a fine actor, but - come on - Taye or Eliza? No contest there...

The Day Break series premiere opens with noisy montage of the sun rising over a busy, metropolitan Los Angeles as commuters blithely go about their business. Subsequent scene transitions are also deja-vu provoking: washed-out and shaky quick cuts of metropolitan skyscrapers, just like you see on say, Boston Legal, Justice, Shark, etcetera etcetera. Let's call a moratorium on this technique right now. It's overused, it's unattractive and it is now officially cliched. Can't a clever director of photography think of another way to bridge sequences? One that doesn't involve causing seizures in the audience?

A close-up of a digital clock flipping from 6:17 to 6:18 am comes next, and then the pilot (directed by X-Files vet Rob Bowman) is careful to set up all the necessary details of the premise so we will understand that "yesterday is today" and that the same day is repeating ad infinitum, ad nauseum. So therefore Brett Hopper trips over his holster after getting out of bed with his girlfriend, Rita (Moon Bloodgood), spies garbage men out the bedroom window, and hears on the morning TV news that a truck filled with diapers has overturned on the free way. Again - deja vu - this is the self-same technique that Tru Calling assiduously utilized on a regular basis -- pointing out the minutiae of daily life and then observing (with delightful trickery...) how it can be changed, avoided, made to stay the same...whathaveyou.

My deja vu watching Day Break isn't merely confined to my memories of Tru (which was really - honestly - getting good when it was canceled...), No, in Day Break, Brett is framed for the murder of assistant D.A. Garza; a crime he didn't commit. This story element necessitates he spend his repeating day on the run, being ruthlessly hunted by fellow police officers Spivak (Mitch Pileggi) and Choi (Ian Anthony Dale). So what we have here is ultimately a twenty-first century version of the David Janssen classic, The Fugitive (1963-1967), only with a science fiction twist. It's a classic man-on-the-run premise, down to the hapless pursuers.

And hey, it's not just a science fiction twist either. There's a taste of The X-Files in this series; and not just in the presence of Pileggi (who was Mulder and Scully's boss, Skinner...) and director Bowman, but also in another story sub-plot: There's a shadowy conspiracy bent on framing Hopper; one independent of the police. A little paranoia can go far, I guess. And so can a healthy helping of 24 and Prison Break. Yep, Day Break is yet another serialized adventure necessiting regular watching. I'm going to have to quit my job and just camp out in front of the TV to keep track of all these serials (Lost, The Nine, 24, Prison Break, Vanished, Kidnapped, Heroes etc.)

"For every decision, there are consequences," a shadowy conspiracy figure informs Brett as he re-lives the same day over and over. That's what passes for wisdom and philosophy in Day Break, alas. In the pilot, we see our hero live the same day four or five times (I eventually lost count...). In two "do-overs" of that day, his girlfriend Rita is murdered. In another, his sexy partner (a corrupt narcotics cop played by Victoria Pratt), gets shot. So Brett must navigate his day absolutely perfectly or loved ones will be lost. He discovers this when on one rerun he prevents a bus accident, yet by not stopping for coffee on the re-do, misses the event (and sees the bloody results...).

Since this series has opted to make one day - repeated constantly - the dramatic battlefield, the pilot is brimming with plot devices and story fragments that can allow the series to head off in different directions if boredom ensues. Brett's sister Jen is being abused by her mean husband, for instance. Someone has also left Brett an important and mysterious package. Then there's a witness in a safe house Hopper needs to protect for an undercover Federal investigation. There's also the woman hit by the bus; then there's the day that Rita seems to disappear. There's Brett's sparring relationship with Rita's ex-husband, played by Firefly's Adam Baldwin with just the right amount of menacing glee. And on and on and on. There are so many passageways to new stories in this pilot that it's practically dizzying.

There is one thing that differentiates Day Break from its thematic predecessor, Tru Calling. On the old show, Tru's day would stop repeating when she solved a certain problem and saved a person who had asked her for help. It looks like that isn't going to be the case here. The day repeats no matter what; with no obvious key to move time forward to the next day. Furthermore, Brett awakes each "same" morning with the wounds and fatigue of the previous day...something that never happened to Tru. Not a significant difference you say? Well, beggars can't be choosers...

I will say that the second hour of Day Break was significantly stronger than the opening hour - which labored through a molasses-slow teleplay to establish a plot hook only an idiot wouldn't understand after a minute or so. The second hour took the show off in new, exciting directions and featured a tense car chase and motel shoot-out. The action was quite good, and even kind of involving. I can't believe it, but by the end of the second hour, I was actually kind of intrigued, and interested in knowing what would come next.

What ultimately broke me down in an otherwise repetitive, over-stuffed and derivative series? Well, I did like the notion that Brett is "cursed" with the knowledge that he could (and likely will...) lose his Rita, the woman he loves. There was something in the chemistry between those two characters; something sincere in that love relationship that I identified with. I always find Cassandra figures appealing. They see the future but are never believed and are helpless to change it.

But otherwise, you've seen this show before. Pick up the phone, Brett Hopper. That's Tru calling.

1 comment:

  1. Lee Hansen11:31 AM

    John...

    Everyone knows Eliza's best role was playing 5th string to AH-NULD in True Lies.

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