Can We Please Stop Casting Bland White Guys as Lead Characters?
Netflix's "Daybreak" features its blandest character
Netflix's new series, Daybreak, sells itself as a post-apocalyptic teenage Rashomon (the Japanese classic told in divergent perspectives), with a sequence of characters in the trailer each claiming to be the real protagonist.
At its best, the show does capture some of this appeal. It almost makes up for the lack of believable dialogue, compelling world-building, or competent portrayal of youth culture by having a diverse array of vibrant characters—like Wesley Fist, the gay black samurai whose story is narrated by Wu Tang's RZA. But ultimately, the claim that these characters have equal weight is undermined by the show's insistent focus on Colin Ford as "just Josh."
He's the bland white guy at the center of the story, because that's something Netflix thinks we need. Prior to the apocalypse, he was just a C-student, a recent transfer from Toronto who claimed to only like food from The Cheesecake Factory. He's continually mistaken for "tennis Josh, little Josh with the big truck, gay Josh, and other gay Josh," to which his friends respond that he's "just Josh." His love interest, Sam Dean (a deliberate nod to Colin Ford's stint on Supernatural?) describes him as "terrifically uncomplicated."
After the bombs drop and all the adults are wiped out, Josh's wilderness skills make him a hot commodity, but it all just reads as an excuse to cast the blandest possible white guy and force all the more interesting characters into orbit around him.
As a bland white boy myself, can we please just stop?
There's no need to plaster on a confused approximation of wokeness (no, Daybreak, you can't say "Todd Altman self-identifies his gender as a seahorse" in a hip, accepting way…) and qualify your main character's bland whiteness by saying "but he's supposed to be boring!" What you can do is skip all that by ditching the bland white guy character in the first place.
While Sam Dean—a blonde, sex-positive Pollyanna with an English accent and a heavy dose of damsel in distress—is a shade more interesting than "just Josh," they could both be removed from the show without losing much value. But nope. Daybreak makes them the center of the whole world.
I mean, there's a turf war for control of hellscape-LA, with cliquish tribes—a la The Warriors—all vying for power. That's pretty fun. And, oh boy! There are even a handful of novel, dynamic characters who are engaging enough to warrant a focus in that unfolding war. Yay! But no. The show insists that Josh's quest to rescue Sam is the really important story.
Why? Josh just sucks. He feels bad that, pre-apocalypse, he called Sam a sl*t, and he wants to save her so he can win her back. Why should we root for that? He called her a sl*t because she's too cool for him—and she's barely cool. He's the blandest flavor of cottage cheese in a toxic-masculine shell. Even if Colin Ford delivered a stellar performance, it's hard to see how this sh*tty character would be salvageable, let alone worthy of the central role. And Colin Ford is faaaar from stellar...
So, Netflix. Do better. You seem to have the freedom to green-light whatever you want, so why keep centering your stories on the same lame characters? Why is a WASPy half-nerd white guy still the default? Speaking on behalf of us all, even we're bored of us by now.