You’ve got to hand it to Matthew Broderick. Despite finding many of his career milestones in the setting of the American high school system, he has managed to court a variety of roles regardless of tropes and expectations. In just playing the carefree Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and the insufferable Jim McAllister (Election) alone, Broderick thoroughly convinces us of his caliber through two of his most remarkably different onscreen personas.
Now, after portraying iconic high school students in Ferris Bueller and WarGames and memorable high school teachers in Election and Strangers with Candy, Broderick is set to rise to the top of the education system food chain as a high school principal (Ed Rooney territory!). According to Deadline, the Netflix horror comedy-drama Daybreak will give Broderick his first regular role in a series. He will depict a cheery man who just wants to do right by his students in a politically conscious world filled with monsters. Quite literally.
Daybreak was co-created by Aron Eli Coleite (Heroes) and frequent Dwayne Johnson collaborator Brad Peyton (Rampage), who will act as showrunner and director of the series, respectively. The 10-episode show, which brings together coming-of-age woes with the thrills and chills of a post-apocalyptic reality, is based on Brian Ralph‘s graphic novel of the same name.
Already, we can anticipate a plethora of changes to Netflix’s treatment of Daybreak, simply because the show’s originating comic is incredibly specific in form. Taking fourth-wall breaking a little further, Ralph’s novel thrusts readers into the very fabric of its story by literally drawing them in as a character. From a point-of-view not unlike those used in video games, this leads consumers to form a remarkable sense of investment in what slowly unfolds before them. In Ralph’s Daybreak, the zombie apocalypse has happened, you’re mostly alone — save for a one-armed man as your guide — so what’s your plan of action?
In contrast, the Netflix show follows 17-year-old Josh, an outcast in search of his missing girlfriend in a Glendale, California, overrun by zombie-esque creatures known as Ghoulies. Per Netflix’s official press release, Josh teams up with other quirky vagabonds such as the 12-year-old pyromaniac Angelica and even a guy named Wesley who used to bully him, but is now a “pacifist samurai.” Together, this trio of misfits fights for their survival against both the Ghoulies as well as over-the-top gangs reminiscent of the ones in George Miller’s Mad Max.
Where Broderick’s character — who will be called Burr and “knows the name of every kid in school and their favorite character to play in Overwatch” — truly fits into Daybreak remains to be seen. I find it a stretch to assume that any of the series’ kids would have much time or patience for high school in a typical sense. They’re preoccupied with a different kind of self-preservation.
That said, the boundaries of horror can be wonderfully broken up with levity in the name of entertainment. Netflix wouldn’t be entirely new to this concept either. For example, Santa Clarita Diet, another of the streaming service’s shows involving zombies, portrays a typical nuclear family juggling everyday life alongside the utter unpredictability and gruesomeness of the fact that one of their own has turned into the flesh-eating undead. Santa Clarita Diet is a stylized delight filled with gory gaffes and good intentions and I’m wondering how a differently and wildly ambitious premise like that of Daybreak will stack up against it.
Moreover, Broderick is suddenly doing a bunch of TV comedies at the moment, anyway. Along with Daybreak, Deadline also notes that he has booked guest roles in the Roseanne spin-off The Conners, as well as FX’s Better Things, which is led by Pamela Adlon. In the former, Broderick will play the love interest to Laurie Metcalf’s Jackie Harris. Meanwhile, he fills the shoes of an unknown counselor in Adlon’s series about working motherhood.
The Conners‘ inception was always the subject of serious scrutiny, in light of its genesis after the firing of Roseanne Barr from her namesake show. In terms of viewership, the series became the top series to premiere this season, although ratings were noticeably lower compared to that of the revived Roseanne in March 2018. Plot-wise, The Conners definitively seals the deal on their hardline stance against Barr in a shocking way right when it premiered. However, also based on its first episode, the promise that The Conners could go on with a character-driven spark is kept intact thanks to strong performances by the rest of the core cast.
Better Things, Adlon’s semi-autobiographical comedy-drama, has been critically lauded and decorated, including multiple Emmy nominations for Adlon herself. The series deserves that recognition, too, as it is an unexpectedly contemplative yet vibrantly bombastic story about family, relationships, and the stressors of daily life as a single parent. Importantly, Adlon’s storytelling prowess (particularly her strengths as a director throughout Season 2) underpins Better Things in a way that allows the show to move past its former connections to Louis C.K. Once a co-creator, executive producer, and writer for Better Things, he was fired by FX in late 2017 after confirmed incidents of sexual misconduct. Still, with brand-new writers on board and Adlon’s primary voice strongly resounding in virtually every element of the show, Better Things has a chance at renewed life.
Putting an assured comedic name like Broderick’s into the mix for both of these broader comedic ventures is a great thing. Regardless, the potential minuteness of his roles doesn’t compel me to jump for joy at his inclusion specifically, since Better Things, in particular, operates on its own agenda. The Conners is malleable enough to make Broderick’s love interest role work, but could he plausibly become part of the family fold in a significant way? Without more episodes of The Conners released at the time of writing, that’s difficult to ascertain.
Instead, Daybreak is the show that piques the most fascination. Zombies aren’t the freshest or newest concept in today’s media landscape, but there is something challenging and potentially fresh about the series’ deliberately complicated premise. And as Broderick’s filmography has frequently demonstrated over the years, returning to high school actually keeps his creative oeuvre distinctive and does him a world of good.