Review by C.J. Bunce

The next tropical paradise action series has two things going for it:  star Poppy Montgomery and a tropical island setting.  Unfortunately that’s probably not enough reason to come back for more.  The new series, Reef Break, will air Thursdays on ABC, with the first season of 13 episodes filmed.  The pilot aired last night, and unless the network made significant changes, viewers can expect a series you’ve seen before with rough writing and rudimentary stumbles.  The show follows Australian native actress Montgomery back on her home turf as Cat Chambers, a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners, confident ruffian with a history (aka baggage), who returns after several years away to the tropical island town of Reef Break.  Filmed and written attempting to conjure a “tropical noir” vibe, it’s crime drama in the vein of Castle–it looks like it wants to be the next Castle with a Hawaii Five-O backdrop, but it has a long way to go.

Audiences have hardly seen a TV season go by–going back to her debut in 1994 on Silk Stalkings–where Montgomery wasn’t either firmly planted atop an acclaimed series (seven seasons on Without a Trace as the high point) or featured as an eye-catching supporting character She’s more than up to the task for this role, which is a showcase of her acting showing both her smarts, saving lives, solving cases, and otherwise being the smartest person in the room, and her physicality, surfing the waves, pulling a gun on the bad guys, and getting punched in the face by the daughter of a man she killed in the show’s backstory.  Montgomery looks like she’s having fun, and for some of her diehard fans that might be enough.  But the material also seems to be light faire for someone of her caliber.  She has presence and even swagger, but the story and dialogue are sub-par, and she’s using a Southern drawl that doesn’t seem like it fits the role (she’s filming in Australia, let’s hear that accent!).  The worst feature is reliance for emotion on an over-stuffed pop song soundtrack.  The opening scene alone incorporates iffy covers of three different overplayed radio songs.

A lot, probably too much, is going on here for a pilot, so it’s a surprise a network picked it up.  Cat Chambers is an ex-thief and now a fixer with the skill set of a British spy or FBI agent, and she knows everyone, and everyone knows her, in this island community.  Already the governor is ready to offer this almost ex-con (arrested, never convicted) a job–for anyone familiar with storytelling he’s set-up as the series recurring bad guy.  The appeal is for fans of Magnum P.I., which had instant chemistry in its reboot with the benefit of nostalgia in addition to the tropical setting, or counterpart series Hawaii Five-OReef Break is also not as clever or quirky as Death in Paradise Part of the pilot fail is a clunky introduction of all the characters, and an ending that shows all the characters are all too coincidentally connected.  It’s goofy and escapist, but so far more goofy than escapist, and doesn’t compare to that instantly slick and sharp (and now canceled) CBS crime series Whiskey Cavalier.

The pilot episode was filled with soap opera tropes, the kind of framed images you might find in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (more posed than framed), the attractive Montgomery and other actresses in magazine cover shots along with the series young steamy male hunk, The Shannara Chronicles’ Desmond Chiam.

The series was created by showrunner/writer Ken Sanzel (Numb3rs, Blue Bloods, Ironside).  As for the supporting cast, Chambers is flanked by two cool guys, one older: Marvel’s Thor-world native Ray Stevenson as soon-to-be ex-husband, and one younger: Chiam as the fresh young local law enforcer.  Fellow Aussie Melissa Bonne plays Chambers’ new governor’s office friend (who is also brother to Chiam’s cop), and Tamala Shelton is the girl from her past Chambers wants to take under her wing.  We’re one episode in and already Chambers and other characters are getting misty-eyed over the past, so expect this to be your typical network drama with plenty of sappy thrown in–not a great combination with that over-used pop music.  It’s repetitive, hackneyed story concepts like this that make you wonder how much time network television has left with all the competition elsewhere.

Reef Break is one for Poppy Montgomery fans or those who just want to get lost in the Australian Gold Coast filming location, and unless the next episodes are significantly different, it’s probably not a must-see to add to your DVR.  Reef Break airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. Central on ABC.

 

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