Day Break has the sick monotony of a fever dream: Buses smash, cheap souvenirs shatter, old nemeses bob to the surface, again and again and again. The ability to mimic the effects of a 3 a.m. Theraflu jag isn’t a great sell for a TV show, and Day Break is tough to commit to. On one hand, the ABC thriller has a nifty hook: For some suspend-your-disbelief reason, L.A. cop Brett Hopper (Kevin Hill‘s Taye Diggs) is stuck reliving the same 24 hours over and over, Groundhog Day-style — and it’s the day he’s falsely accused of murdering an assistant district attorney.
On the other hand, that means Day Break is yet another drama packed with ennui-triggering conspiracy theories. Hopper is being framed; Hopper’s partner (Victoria Pratt) may be dirty (her hair mysteriously feathers and unfeathers from scene to scene, which is nefarious enough); and moments that don’t work really don’t work on second glance — like Hopper being threatened by the supersecretive Bad Guys in the middle of a massive quarry filled with spotlights, which seems to be an incredibly unprivate venue. On the third hand, this is one artfully cast show — the actors have a buoying effect on the ho-hummery. The versatile Diggs is something to behold in action mode: He kicks ass with such ease, the man should be handed the next big movie franchise immediately. Adam Baldwin (Serenity), as the fratty-square investigator out to get Diggs’ Hopper, is sterling as usual, and as Hopper’s girlfriend, Moon Bloodgood (Eight Below) actually renders viable the act of nagging while pulling a bullet out of her beau’s shoulder with pliers.
ABC is packaging the first two hours of the series as a special pilot episode — which is an even more repetitive disservice. It’s not until the Nov. 22 episode that Day Break stops setting up its premise (with much wheezing and groaning) and starts having fun with it. That’s when Diggs lands some lighter scenes — even action heroes can enjoy flashes of humor — and really starts displaying the leading-man charm that kept Kevin Hill afloat. Better yet, all the preordained situations start to twist as Hopper learns how to manipulate his day: For instance, each morning a bitchy cell-phone-and-designer-coffee type is destined to get hit by a bus if Hopper doesn’t interfere. By day 6, he’s figuring out how to save her without even getting out of his car. At its best, Day Break has a Choose Your Own Adventure feel (one of the really good Edward Packard ones) with Hopper as the adventurer: Go to page 78, your girlfriend dies; flip back, choose a different action, the girlfriend lives…but your partner rats you out. Day Break just needs to get those pages flying a little faster.