Web content is here to stay, and it keeps getting better. “Day 5,” the new thriller from Rooster Teeth Productions, offers a fresh take on a familiar plot, which can hold its own against recent apocalyptic greats like “The Walking Dead,” “Lost” and “Fringe.” The considerable hype around this show is merited, with Rooster Teeth’s top creatives Burnie Burns and Josh Flanagan at the helm. The first two episodes of the six-part series do not disappoint.
Affable anti-hero Jake, played with puppy dog-eyed drug-addict aplomb by Jesse C. Boyd (“The Walking Dead”) and precocious thirteen-year-old Sam (Walker Satterwhite) meet on “Day 2” of a mysterious supernatural occurrence that has suddenly made sleeping deadly. Within a matter of minutes, any sleeping person in the world has died in their beds. The remaining witnesses must rely on uppers and adrenaline drips to stay awake or risk the same fate.
In such circumstances, the unlikely pair bond quickly as they team up with a surly red-eye pilot named Ellis (Davi Jay, of “Treme” and “The Walking Dead”) and altruistic ER doctor Ally (Stephanie Drapeau). The odd grouping of outsiders find themselves on a search for an explanation — and hopefully a cure — before day 12, when Ally assures them their bodies will inevitably succumb to exhaustion, i.e. death.
Though dark, “Day 5” is suitably fun in all of its gory glory. Replete with high-octane car chases, end-of-the-world raves and campy horror nods (a little girl slumber party being the last fort you’d want to see when a sleep epidemic hits), the mystery driving the plot is one you’ll want to stick around and solve. The series makes light of its premise by exploring the physical limitations of a body without sleep. Because of all the uppers they take, the characters constantly have to urinate: Holding IV poles, standing on bathtubs (why not, when you’re casing a dead man’s house?) or out the door of a moving car.
There’s also a fun little detail mentioned early on, which should definitely surface later: No sex allowed. Orgasms release melatonin, which is a sedative. (No word on sex sans orgasms.)
The dialogue is sufficiently witty; responding to Ally’s question of Sam and Jake’s relationship, Jake asks, “What are you to me, Sam?” and the smirking teen replies, “Indispensible.” When Jake needs motivation to carry on in the quest to find the cause of the epidemic, Sam pumps him up with a line from “Dirty Harry.” (“A man’s got to know his limitations.”)
Jake is a particularly compelling character, with his meth-addicted past and dead little sister (see: Slumber party). Appearing in Jake’s hallucinatory flashbacks, Megan (Mallory Mahoney) delivers Jake’s backstory as an omniscient Shirley Temple. The hefty roles entrusted to child actors are a testament to Rooster Teeth’s creative team. Clearly, their commitment to nurturing talent reaches above and below the line.
Occasionally, the show reaches for depth unnecessarily. When Sam asks Jake if it’s ironic that man is “literally pissing his last days away,” the joke falls flat from too much exposition. More nuanced are the obvious parallels the show draws between Sam and Megan, possibly foreshadowing a heroic self-sacrifice from Jake.
With “Day 5,” Rooster Teeth cements its position as one of the leading players in original digital content. If there were any doubts as to whether the team behind lighter fare like “Red vs. Blue” and “Lazer Team” could tackle a live-action scripted drama, those can be assuaged. The platform’s devoted fan base will not be disappointed. Whether “Day 5” will introduce Rooster Teeth to new audiences is yet to be seen, though they’d certainly be missing out.