There’s a fine line between mysterious and just plain mystifying, and “Day Break” lurches over it. A taut thriller that weds “24” with “Groundhog Day,” the series’ rules are too murky for its own good, leaving behind a handsome, fast-paced hour that (three episodes in, anyway) still doesn’t make a lick of sense. Taye Diggs is an energetic presence in the central role, but this frosh drama faces a tall order subbing for “Lost” against CBS’ surging “Criminal Minds,” especially with ABC companion “The Nine” already looking like it needs a standing eight count.
“For every decision, there’s a consequence” becomes the pivotal line describing this concept, in which L.A. detective Brett Hopper (Diggs) awakens to find himself charged with murdering an assistant district attorney. Dragged downtown, he’s separated from his girlfriend Rita (Moon Bloodgood), who happens to be the ex-wife of his former partner (Adam Baldwin), as two homicide detectives (Mitch Pileggi and Ian Anthony Dale) grill him.
About halfway through, though, things start to get weird. Hopper is knocked out and awakens in a huge quarry that vaguely resembles Superman’s fortress of solitude, where a shadowy man (Jonathan Banks) shows him video of his girlfriend being killed. Hopper is then injected with something and awakens back at the start of the day — in bed with a very alive Rita.
So the cop goes about reliving his day, this time with all the knowledge amassed the day before, trying to unravel who’s framing him, what’s behind the scheme and why only he is experiencing this deja vu (not to be confused with the Denzel Washington movie). Moreover, everything that happens to him also carries over, so when he gets shot in one episode, he’s still nursing the wound in the next.
“Groundhog Day” milked considerable comedic mileage from a similar premise, but as a drama, the uncertainty becomes increasingly confounding, and a trifle annoying. And while the plot thickens as Hopper collects information by pursuing different paths, the vague sci-fi underpinnings diminish the sense of jeopardy, since there’s no situation that can’t be resolved — temporarily, anyway — by taking a nap and waiting for sunrise.
To the credit of series creator Paul Zbyszewski and exec producers Matthew Gross, Jeffrey Bell and Rob Bowman (the last two are “X-Files” alums), it’s an ambitious template with “Memento”-like overtones, and they’ve done a fine job casting the series, beginning with Diggs, who’s every ounce the chiseled action hero.
The nagging question I keep repeating, however, is whether viewers will be drawn into the mystery or be put off by seeing variations on the same scenes over and over, at which point it might dawn on them they can escape Hopper’s recurring nightmare at any moment with a flick of the remote control.