I described Daybreak to my friends as the love child of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Zombieland, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; make of that what you will. It grabs you immediately with its introduction, complete with vibrant visuals, an endearingly mischievous frontman, 4th wall breaks, and the music of 2pac. Each episode takes turns giving backstory and perspective into a different character’s life, therefore each one is styled differently depending on who’s doing the talking, and for a while, it works. The premise of teenagers navigating an apocalypse among adults-turned-zombies, high school cliques, and teenage romance is, without a doubt, a promising one. But while the show’s imaginative, unconventional approach to story-telling is effective in the beginning, it loses steam further down the road as certain characters either lack the complexity to carry a whole episode on their own or fall prey to inconsistent writing. That plus the frustratingly tired “Jock Bullies and Terrorizes Gay Boy But Has Actually Been Secretly In Love With Him The Whole Time” trope (looking at you, Sex Education and Glee) created a few problems for me as I was watching. Frankly, it gets difficult to root for the characters and stay invested in their lives and relationships.
Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised with how varied and genuinely well done the soundtrack is. The songs chosen set the tone for the show right off the bat, and I appreciated how realistic it is to what teens actually listen to today. Here are my favorites.
California Love – 2Pac, Roger, Dr. Dre
The sunny intro apocalyptic Glendale and the students of Glendale High.
Today – The Smashing Pumpkins
This is the first song sung when we’re introduced to American Ninja Idol, the jocks’ form of entertainment/execution. One of the Jaden’s performs an off-key version of it with the school band before being dropped into a ring of ghoulies.
Simplify – Young The Giant
The backing track to Josh and Sam’s “teen rom-com montage” – Josh’s words, not mine.
This Year – The Mountain Goats
In the process of trying to cut off his hand, Josh has flashbacks of his first kiss with Sam and getting beat up by Jaden Hoyles.
I Want It – Viv and the Revival
Ms. Crumble snacks on Josh’s now-removed finger as things in the mall get weirder and weirder.
Buddy – J.PERIOD
During Angelica’s narration, she reveals how she had a business selling drug-infused edible slime to high schoolers before the bomb struck.
Teenagers – My Chemical Romance
In a flashback, Angelica beats Demi up with a cafeteria tray after Demi patronizes her in front of her friends.
Pretty Please – The Triplett Twins
Wesley and Angelica drive back to the mall after working together to get medication for Josh’s hand.
Baba O’Riley – The Who
Wesley and Angelica hatch a plan to fake Sam’s death in order to make Josh want to stay in the mall so they can continue working as a team.
Thirteen – Big Star
This song plays during Principal Burr’s voice over while Baron Triumph hunts teenagers on the streets
#Lit – Top Flite Empire
Jaden Hoyles’ anthem as he wreaks havoc across the school.
Hang On Me – St. Vincent
A sentimental moment between Ms. Crumble and Angelica after Eli finishes doing their makeup.
Breezeblocks – alt-J
Josh and KJ skateboard through the mall. Unbeknownst to Josh, Eli and Wesley are coming up with ways to kill Josh after Turbo blackmailed Wesley into doing it.
Not About You – Haiku Hands
The teens taking refuge in the mall make the best of their situation and host a homecoming dance; this is the first song Wesley puts on as DJ.
More Than Words – Extreme
The token slow dance song during homecoming.
I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys
The jocks plan on raiding homecoming, but are foiled by Wesley’s plan to put mannequins on the dance floor as decoys.
Making Love Out of Nothing at All – Air Supply
Gary gives a passionate performance of this song for American Ninja Idol before being killed by ghoulies.
Love My Way – The Psychedelic Furs
Josh rewatches footage from Turbo and the jocks and realizes Sam has been alive and with them this whole time.
Sing Your Life – Morrissey
“Sing Your Life” serves as the “theme song” for the 90s sitcom-style narration of Ms. Crumble’s story.
Crush – Tessa Violet
“Crush” plays while Josh kicks Wesley and Eli out of the mall and starts forming his new plan to reunite with Sam.
Someone To Love – Atomic Tom
Pre-apocalypse, Sam and Josh ditch school for the day and head to Josh’s apartment.
Seashore – The Regrettes
Sam becomes unhinged, dancing around to this song in Josh’s apartment and putting on a show after he’s surprised she’s not a virgin.
Thinking About You – Big Scary
Sam bikes back to the school in tears after an argument with Josh and has a heart to heart with Wesley.
Things We Saw – Cary Brothers
Eli dies in Josh’s arms after a surprise attack from Jaden Hoyles.
Adventures In Solitude – The New Pornographers
Josh makes his way back to the high school, dressed as Baron Triumph, and is reunited with Sam.
Congratulations – Blue October, Imogen Heap
Josh chooses to stay and fight with Sam while the other Daybreakers leave, even though Sam is angry about him hooking up with KJ.
Once In My Life – The Decemberists
The Daybreakers come back to fight with Josh, bringing some stray Cheermazons and Jocks along for the ride.
In Another Life – Harper Blynn
Ms. Crumble sacrifices herself and stays behind to launch the rocket.
In Cold Blood – alt-J
The series ends with Sam sitting on the throne, assuming complete leadership over all the teens left over.
Title design courtesy of Canva