Unmoored from reason or shame and buoyed by its willingness to be as silly as it wants to be, the new ABC drama “Reef Break” is a wildly unserious piece of television. In that, it’s a bit refreshing — a network series that embraces its network-iness, that has absolutely no ambition beyond evoking a smile. “Reef Break,” about a thief-turned-fixer who finds herself involved in fighting crime on a Pacific idyll, is not particularly distinguished, but as an example of a particular sort of television-making, it’s better-done than it might be.
The series’s cold open is emblematic. Flying into a small Hawaiian island, Cat Chambers (Poppy Montgomery) susses out the flight’s air marshal. Once the plane has landed, she tells him that a fellow passenger is armed and has an open wound bleeding through his shirt; she suspects he committed an armed robbery before the flight. As marshal and perp face off on the tarmac, Cat struts through the melee, adjusting her sunglasses and picking up some loose bills that fly from the suspect’s bag of ill-gotten cash. It’s a faintly ludicrous set-up that exists to set up Cat as omnipotently observant and possessed of a certain blasé cool — a sangfroid that shatters, a bit, when she later refers to the island as “the shadiest sunny place in the country.” Beachy zen vibes don’t tend to coexist with impassioned cliché, but Montgomery tries her hardest to make it all work.
Cat Chambers is a certain sort of old-school TV writer’s dream — she’s capable of noticing anything, as long as one is patient enough to wait for her epiphanies, which tend to arise on a timeline governed by act breaks. She’s sarcastic and a bit sharp-tongued, but not in a manner that might potentially turn audiences off, and she has a softer side, too; she’s prone to reflections that are easily scored with a pop song as she stares into the horizon. (The pilot has more than any episode’s share of such moments of quiet contemplation, let alone an episode that’s anchored by a plot about an heiress and would-be influencer getting kidnapped from out of her kayak.) The only thing deep about “Reef Break” is its silliness. Yet splashing in the shallows can, for those in the right temperament and in need of brain-off summer fare, have its pleasures too.
“Reef Break.” ABC. June 20. One episode screened for review.
Cast: Poppy Montgomery, Ray Stevenson, Desmond Chiam, Melissa Bonne, Tamala Shelton
Executive Producers: Mark Rosner, Steve Pearlman, Ruthanne Secunda, Poppy Montgomery