Netflix's teen comedy 'Daybreak' makes the apocalypse a whole lot of fun
"Surviving high school is like surviving the apocalypse." Showrunner Aron Eli Coleite unpacks a teenage wasteland in Netflix's 'Daybreak.'
Pop culture fears the apocalypse. Shows like The Walking Dead, movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, and books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road generally depict the end of the world as the end of humanity. That isn’t the case with Netflix’s newest coming of age comedy, Daybreak, streaming October 24.
“We wanted to do a coming-of-age story in a couple different fashions,” series producer and showrunner Aron Eli Coleite tells Inverse. “Surviving high school is like surviving the apocalypse.”
Based on the indie comic series by Brian Ralph, Daybreak is the story of Josh Wheeler (Colin Ford), a California teenager in search of his girlfriend, Sam (Sophie Simnett) after a cataclysmic event turns all adults over age 18 into zombie-like husks. To survive the new West Coast wasteland, Josh reluctantly teams up with some of his high school frenemies to find and reunite with Sam.
Eschewing the doom and gloom of most apocalyptic stories, Daybreak revels in the joy and freedom only anarchy can allow. Unlike the grizzled survivors in The Walking Dead, the heroes in Daybreak are having the time of their lives. Sure, violence still runs amok, but Daybreak is not out to depress viewers with relentless misery. In fact, it wants to do the complete opposite.
“We wanted to tell this story about not only reinventing yourself in the most trying of circumstances, but being an outsider and finding your people,” Coleite says. “You make your family in the most unlikely of places.”
The series’ lighthearted take on the end times was inspired by the comic, which was adapted into a screenplay by co-producer and series director Brad Peyton. “When the original comic came out, Brad found it and wrote a feature draft,” explains Coleite. “In it was a character who actually said the apocalypse was the best thing that ever happened to them. I found that so refreshing, because that’s exactly how I felt in high school.”
It’s not that Coleite wanted to roam the highways atop tricked-out pickup trucks. (Although, let’s be real, who wouldn’t?) Rather, it was the opportunity to truly “reinvent” oneself that spoke to Coleite. “It would be wonderful to reinvent ourselves, and I don’t think that was unique [to me] at all,” he says.
Recalling one of his favorite movies, 1984’s Night of the Comet, Coleite saw what youths would do when they’re not held back by society’s rules. “The kids’ first reaction wasn’t to reform society. They went to the mall. Got fur coats and drove the best cars. That’s what kids would do. They would live their best life.”
But just because the apocalypse is fun doesn’t mean it can’t provoke big questions. Around the time Daybreak was green-lit, the events of the Parkland massacre took place and shook the writer’s room — and Coleite himself. “The feeling I had out of Parkland was, I failed. I failed as a parent.”
Although a political activist himself in his teenaged years, Coleite says he slowed down when he became a father. “I donated to causes and kept my politics in check. But what did we do? What have we left for my own kids?”
Rather than fall into despair, Coleite and the writers found hope in the young people who emerged to the forefront advocating for American gun control. “Seeing David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez speak so eloquently about how they were not going to let the mistakes of their parents dictate their lives, I felt hopeful,” he says.
Coleite says Daybreak’s big ambition is to show teenagers as something other than “lost” or “vapid.” “We didn’t want to make another teenage show that portrayed this generation as anything negative,” he says. “We wanted something that spoke to who they were: an emboldened, empowered generation that is not afraid to call bullshit. Whether it’s Emma Gonzalez, Greta Thunberg, or Malala Yousafzai.”
He adds, “I wanted a show that could reflect that positivity about this generation. Yes they make mistakes, yes they are still kids. But they’re capable. They’re going to make the world a better place.”
Daybreak is available to stream now on Netflix.