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'Daybreak' Aims for Viewers Through Deja Vu

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The hit TV drama series Lost is about to go missing. Starting tonight, ABC is putting a new drama in the time slot for a few months. It's called Day Break, and if you like Lost's mind-bending ways, Day Break will not disappoint.

Here's TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: There's an easy way to describe Day Break. It's The Fugitive meets Groundhog Day. Now if you've seen those movies you know they cinematically have nothing to do with each other, which is what makes Day Break such a pleasant surprise.

In The Fugitive, a man framed for murder tries to prove his innocence on the lam. In Groundhog Day, a man mysteriously lives the same day over and over again. Those premises are improbably and brilliantly fused together for Day Break, in which a man framed for murder attempts to clear his name without having to clear his calendar.

As in Groundhog Day, Detective Brett Hopper wakes up to the same day, in this case it's 6:17 a.m. The day just so happens to be the one he is collared for killing an assistant district attorney. The problem is Hopper - played by Taye Diggs - doesn't think he killed anyone or at least doesn't remember.

In this scene, he is interrogated for the murder by fellow cops played by Mitch Pileggi and Ian Anthony Dale.

SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DAY BREAK"

Mr. IAN ANTHONY DALE (Actor): (As Detective Choi) Look, you know what we're doing here, all the tactics back and forth. So I'm coming straight at you. What did you have against Garza?

Mr. TAYE DIGGS (Actor): (As Brett Hopper) You've got to be kidding right?

Mr. MITCH PILEGGI (Actor): (As Detective Spivak) We've got the murder weapon. Your prints are on it.

WALLENSTEIN: As Hopper sorts through the puzzle of his life, we learn he has plenty of pieces. The informant he counted on to rat out a local gang has turned on him. And his girlfriend happens to be the ex-wife of his former partner, Chad Shelten played by Adam Baldwin.

There's no love lost between Hopper and Shelten. In this scene Hopper complains to Shelten he's been framed.

SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DAY BREAK"

Mr. Diggs: (As Brett Hopper) Now you know this things being set up from like a mile away.

Mr. ADAM BALDWIN (Actor): (As Chad Shelten) Set up? No, they got you cold man. Weapon, prints. But you've got an alibi, right? Rita? You've been spending a lot of time with her lately. If you're going to make an honest woman of her, get married already.

WALLENSTEIN: Were it not for its Groundhog Day twist, Day Break would be a standard issue cop thriller. It's filled with stock characters, wooden dialogue and it's too slick by half. But sticking its protagonist in this looping time warp, a mystery in itself for Hopper to solve, is a terrific concede.

Watching Hopper negotiate familiar terrain over and over in different ways feels more like you're watching an Xbox than ABC, which probably makes me the first critic to compare a production to a video game and intend it as a compliment.

On paper, the hybrid heart of Day Break doesn't make much sense, but a funny thing can happy when one formula is mixed with another formula, you come up with a pretty creative concoction.

CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein is DAY TO DAY's regular TV critic. He's also an editor for the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.