By John Hanlon
Reef Break, the new ABC drama, attempts to provide a summer respite for viewers looking for action and adventure. Set on an island known simply as the Reef, the program celebrates the sun, the surf and the scandals that take place in this small community. The show has a breezy nature but it’s ultimately not as fun as it could be.
Poppy Montgomery, who was excellent on the long-running CBS drama Without a Trace, trades in her badge for her new role as Cat Chambers, a criminal-turned-informant. After a five-year absence, Cat returns to the island in the first episode. The show bluntly introduces her character’s enigmatic personality during an over-the-top encounter after Cat’s flight.
Cat arrives on the island to testify in a parole hearing (against a criminal who once ordered her death) but after she makes the local news, she’s drawn into a local kidnapping story. The victim, the daughter of The Reef’s richest resident, was abducted while surfing. When the kidnappers learn about Chambers’ return, they pull her into the situation — tasking her with delivering the ransom money.
The first episode — the only one that was available to review — sets up the premise of the show nicely. Cat uses her criminal background and expertise to help solve the kidnapping case and she’s recruited to aid in further investigations.
There’s a superficial satisfaction in the concept itself but the program never offers the light-hearted fun it seemingly wants to provide. New relationships — like a budding romance/rivalry between Cat and detective Wyatt Cole (Desmond Chiam) — are introduced casually but the show’s dialogue doesn’t bring enough energy to that relationship to make it really spark.
There is plenty of energy in another relationship though. The pilot introduces a supporting character named Jake (Ray Stevenson), who shares an interesting history with Cat. Years earlier, she married Jake — not knowing that he was really an undercover FBI agent (a revelation that would undeniably hinder any relationship).
When Cat returns to the island, she reunites with Jake and recruits him to help her solve the case. The dialogue between Cat and Jake offers some unique insights into the characters and it will be interesting to see how their complicated relationship plays out in future installments.
As for the kidnapping itself (which gets resolved in the first episode), there are some quirky twists in the case and the resolution doesn’t simply tie everything up nicely. It reminds viewers that Chambers does have a criminal past and likely won’t be changing anytime soon. The unorthodox conclusion — which gives Cat a place to stay on the island — also helps set up an intriguing back story about Cat’s past.
Reef Break beautifully captures the vibrancy of its location (Cat calls the reef “the shadiest sunny place in the country”) but it doesn’t offer a vibrant story to go along with it. The set-up works nicely enough but the script could use some improvements.
Aside from the relationship between Cat and Jake, there isn’t much else that makes this adventure series stand out as the summer treat it could be.
Reef Break airs Thursday nights on ABC.