Sunday, November 19, 2006

TV: Day Break

Day Break debuted Thursday on ABC and the overnights weren't good. A friend with the show blames it on the reviews. Were they negative, we (Ava and C.I.) wondered? No, they just didn't get the show, we were told.

Groundhog Day, he explained, was the constant comparison.

Oh yes, those Water Cooler Critics. Groundhog Day, a funny movie, follows one man's nightmare of reliving the same day over and over in a town he initially loathes.

That's about as far removed from Day Break as you can get. The hour long show (two hours in its debut) traces a day in the life of police detective Brett Hopper. Basically, he's wrongly accused of a crime, he's thrown in jail, he's kidnapped by some mobster types, his girlfriend is killed, his sister is threatened unless he will take the fall for a murder. At that point, he's injected with a light sedative and falls asleep.

When he awakes the next day, it's not the next day. It's the same day. This will happen over and over. Each 'new' day, he has some recall of what happened the day prior (sometimes he remembers immediately, sometimes it comes slowly). He will also have the wounds from the day prior. So when one day ends with him being shot, the 'next' morning (when the same day restarts) he will be found, in bed, bathed in blood.

Can he change events? Can he do that in such a way that he protects the people he loves and clears his own name? Can he manage to stay awake to the next Day Break and, if so, would that break the same day repeating over and over?

Someone saw this as Groundhog Day?

Actually, we're told, they pretty much all did, the Water Cooler Set -- a motley group of gas bags whose lack of insight is matched only by the dearth of their knowledge. Apparently unfamiliar with the work of either Oswald Spengler or Greek mythology (Sisyphus) they go with what they've been weened on ("TV babies," as Matt Dillon sneers in Drugstore Cowboy). Sad, but not shocking, they can't even get that right.

The show is not Groundhog Day played straight. This isn't about someone overcoming boredom or learning to appreciate the joys of normalcy. Leave it to the nonthinking Water Cooler Set to screw up the show's theme so badly.

But does that explain the audience's reaction? While it's true that the false advertising of the comparison may turn viewers off when they watch, we were surprised to find that a number of people just weren't interested in the show, in the very concept. Just the idea of a program doing the "same thing" (as a college student in Minnesota put it last week) "over and over" was enough to turn some people off.

That's really not what the show is.

We've watched four episodes and read several scripts. (We're not doing spoilers.) This is a fast paced show. It's a very violent show. (Those worried about the deaths of TV characters can take comfort in the fact that, as long as each day repeats, each person killed 'comes back to life' the 'next' day.) If the show was set in England and airing on PBS, we think there would be a mini-cult springing up around it.

Taye Diggs, of How Stella Got Her Groove Back Before She Discovered Her Man Was Gay fame, plays Brett Hopper. While it's good that he's lost the laughable Jamacian accent he used in that film, it's a shame he didn't create a British one for this role -- doing so would probably make him a shoe-in for an Emmy nomination. He's giving a very strong performance. In fact, there's not a bad actor in the cast. Everyone is worthy of note which includes Moon Bloodgood as Brett's girlfriend Rita who proves that, despite the film work of Ali MacGraw and Cindy Crawford, some former models can act. Bloodgood, Victoria Pratt and Meta Golding play characters (quite well) who actually do. In a TV land filled with women who pose and women who nudge, that's something worth noting.

It's a tight show -- in every sense of the term. We'd been hyped up on it by two friends with the show and we weren't expecting much. It's only scheduled as a fill in for Lost (which returns in February) and we honestly thought we'd take a pass on it -- not just reviewing it, but watching it. It took tremendous coaxing to get us to watch.

We thought it would be a snooze-fest or, worse, 24 where nothing happens . . . slowly. We were impressed with some of the performances and the writing in the 'first' day. But it wasn't until the other 'days' followed that we really found it compelling. We want to emphasize that -- in case you are among the many who didn't watch. Yes, this is a mini-series but, no, you won't be confused if you attempt to catch it this Wednesday. You'll have missed some good 'days,' but you'll also have missed the 'first' day which struck us as way too much setup and way too much ordinary.

There's nothing ordinary about the show once it gets moving. There may, however, be a familiar feeling to it.

We ran our theory past our friends with the show and were surprised to learn that some in the Water Cooler Set are seeing it as some sort of commentary on the Young African-American Male Today.

If you ignore the fact that Diggs will turn 35 before the mini-series ends, there's nothing wrong with noting that theme except for the fact that it's not a theme of the program. Apparently the shock of seeing an African-American as the lead in a one hour drama broadcast on the big three left some feeling they'd just sat through Eye On the Prize or at least Training Day.

What we picked up on was something we think our readers will as well. Brett's realizing, after the fact, that something illegal has happened. Lives are lost. He's been given an opportunity to undue it via a trick of time.

Apparently the Water Cooler Set was pointing fingers at the entertainment industry and had ha-has about networks and studios in their reviews. Something you should never forget: the Water Cooler Set is part of the mainstream press.

So maybe it's not all that surprising to discover they played dumb again?

We see Day Break as a mini-series of its time. The 'first' day, Brett's surrounded by hype and lies. As the day goes by, he begins to see beneath them. He awakes the 'next' day (and every day) with the hope that he can change things, he can undo them.

Leave it to the same mainstream press that sold the illegal war to turn it around on the entertainment industry when a more apt comparison is the waking up that's gone in the country (which includes some in the press). 2865 is the count for American soldiers who've died since the illegal war began as we write this. 125 British soldiers have died and 121 "other" soldiers. The Lancet study pegged the number of Iraqi fatalities at 655,000.

For anyone who's forgotten, Bully Boy and the press (which includes more than Judith Miller) sold the war via a false link between Iraq and 9-11 and the hyped threat of what turned out to be non-existant WMDs while tying the pretty bow of "cakewalk" around the lies.

No link, no WMDs, and certainly no cakewalk.

On Thursday, the latest Gallup poll found that only 31% of Americans responding are pleased with the way things are going, 36% identified Iraq as the nation's most pressing issue. You think some people wouldn't want to go back to a day before the illegal invasion if they could? Try to do things differently?

Don't count on the Water Cooler Set. We're told they ha-ha-ed about the entertainment industry. Apparently, still nursing their brusies for predicting Studio 60 Blah Blah Blah as the ratings hit of the fall season (didn't quite turn out that way, did it?), they want to focus on the entertainment industry which, for the record, is far healthier on Wall St. these days than are the daily papers. But heaven forbid, even all this time later, that the Water Cooler Set attempt to shed any light on how the bum rush to an illegal war turned out.

Art and "art" can comment. Sometimes because they choose to, sometimes because they're forced to. On the latter, a friend at CBS called begging us to watch Navy NCIS last week. We'd already reviewed it and weren't interested. He told us that we really shouldn't miss the opening. So we watched the first minutes to see what was going on?

Reality intruded. They had to redo a voice over. It was a gathering of some sort to honor Donald the Rumsfled. When the scene had been taped (by the gung-ho-sters), it had a different voice over making the announcement. When it was broadcast Tuesday night, the announcement went: "Ladies and gentlemen, the retiring Secretary of Defense of the United States." The money required to redo that line wasn't enough to put the spangles on even one stage outfit in Cher's wardrobe. But they did change it.

That's because reality is intruding and has intruded on the press hype that created the war. Some in the mainstream have woken up. Hearing of the Day Break reviews, it's becoming sadly apparent that the Water Cooler Set is still in deep sleep. As most of the country has awakened, they're still hitting the snooze button. For the record, Day Break? Nothing like Groundhog Day.
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