'Day Break': It's Noir at 6:17 In the Morning

Taye Diggs as a detective and Moon Bloodgood as his girlfriend in the ABC drama.
Taye Diggs as a detective and Moon Bloodgood as his girlfriend in the ABC drama. (By Vivian Zink -- Abc)

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By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Superficially, "Day Break," a new ABC drama series, sounds suspiciously similar to "Groundhog Day," a Bill Murray comedy in which he played a weatherman who was forced to live the same winter day over and over and over. But "Day Break" isn't "Groundhog Day" so much as "Groundhog Day" in hell. It is definitely no comedy.

The dank, creepy series, premiering with a two-hour pilot tonight at 9 on ABC, is the latest example of Video Noir -- TV tinged with surrealism, mysticism and an aura of murky, existential mystery in which much more is asked than answered.

Actor Taye Diggs, a sensationally powerful presence on the screen, plays Brett Hopper, a Los Angeles police detective who wakes one morning at 6:17 in his girlfriend's apartment, gets out of bed, hears about a freeway traffic jam caused by a truckful of diapers -- just another day in L.A. -- and soon finds himself catapulted into a series of ghastly, nightmarish events. The most prominent: his arrest for the murder of the assistant district attorney, a man he never even met.

There are many comparatively minor predicaments along the way. Hopper is surveying the damage to his own ransacked apartment when fellow L.A. cops burst in like storm troopers, arrest him for the murder and drag him off to jail. The next thing he knows -- or the next after the next -- poor battered Hopper is lying in a massive ditch being kicked and interrogated by more cops, then injected with what one calls "a mild sedative."

When his eyes pop open, it's -- as you may have guessed -- 6:17 a.m. again, his girlfriend is back beside him in bed, diapers are littering a freeway and he can see the whole horrible scenario beginning to play itself out again. Since viewers might well balk at watching the same scenes over and over, "Day Break" differs in structure from "Groundhog Day" in that Hopper takes quick-witted steps to try to avoid having events repeat themselves. Cops can't find his gun at the scene of the crime, he reasons, if he rushes outside and drops it off Santa Monica Pier.

But he is being watched. Everybody is being watched. The question is whether everybody will be watching "Day Break," because intriguing and confounding though it is, this is anything but easy, funsy television. In fact, there are times when a viewer may feel he's being punished almost to the same degree as Detective Hopper. As is the vogue, scenes are shot very tight, close-ups abound, much of the action is a blur, lighting levels are often low and all these details combine for an uncomfortably tense intensity, really almost suffocating at times.

Remember when virtually every TV show aimed to please, all but jumping into your lap and licking your face like a happy puppy? Those days, for any number of reasons, appear to be gone, at least for a while. Viewers now sit still for shows (a la ABC's "Lost") in which there may be no real closure or resolution to individual episodes, just the vague promise of a payoff somewhere down the line. Unfortunately for Diggs and company, prime time may have passed the saturation point on this kind of twisty serialized drama. Viewers may even be yearning for such mundane commodities as sense and sensibility once again.

So while a great deal of thought and craftsmanship has gone into "Day Break," it can be recommended only to the most stouthearted of viewers -- and, of course, to those who find Diggs worth watching whether he's running from bad guys or balancing a peanut on his nose (this doesn't happen in the first episode but with a show like this, you never know).

As Hopper's endangered girlfriend, Moon Bloodgood suffers total eclipse next to the leading man; there's something irritatingly hesitant about her. But Victoria Pratt as Andrea Battle, another cop who may or may not be part of the conspiracy against Hopper, makes a stronger impression. Among the show's large population of thugs and bullies, Adam Baldwin stands out as Chad Shelten, who used to be Hopper's partner but now is part of the effort to send him up the river.

"Today was yesterday," Hopper tries to explain to his girlfriend, even though, he also says, "yesterday was today." One of his fiendish tormentors, meanwhile, keeps cautioning him about how every decision has a consequence; it's the show's mantra. Baldwin gets the best line of tough-guy, noirish dialogue when he menaces Hopper with "You are itching for a toe tag, aren't you?"

This is clearly not the kind of show in which to seek merry escape from the troubles and frustrations of the day, but those with the patience to see it through may find in "Day Break" unusually unnerving and mind-boggling terror. Whether you're enticed or repulsed will depend on how often and how violently you like having your mind boggled.

Day Break (two hours) airs tonight at 9 on Channel 7.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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