ABC’s ‘Grand Hotel’ & ‘Reef Break’: TV Hasn’t Bailed on Summer Froth

At a time when the broadcast TV audience keeps shrinking and in the season when viewers watch the least amount of any kind of TV, ABC is hoping that maybe folks will tune in if it promises not to make them think too hard.

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Poppy Montgomery in ‘Reef Break’: Does this say summer or what?

It’s not a sweeping strategy or a high-risk bet. Specifically, ABC is offering up the lavish soap Grand Hotel on Monday nights at 10 and then a breezy cop thriller called Reef Break, starting Thursday and also airing at 10.

The premise here is that people are still watching TV. They’re just watching it all over the map and sometimes they don’t even know it’s TV. It’s content, something you punch up on the phone like baby dolphin videos.

That said, both Grand Hotel and Reef Break join a long tradition of summer programs with no higher ambition than helping you relax at the end of a long, warm day.

Sure, some serious stuff goes down in Reef Break, like kidnapping and blackmail and murder. But it’s not dark, ominous, bone-chilling murder. It’s more like murder in a tropical paradise, surrounded by sand, surf and the bright visual glow of an endless summer.

It stars Poppy Montgomery, who was lots of fun in the CBS summer series Unforgettable, as Cat Chandler, a professional surfer who has returned to the fictional Reef Island after a five-year absence.

Cat has street smarts and a lot of attitude, not to mention a remarkably complicated history with Reef Island and its inhabitants.

She seems to have returned primarily to testify at a parole hearing for a lowlife who threatened to kill her because she testified against him. She says she testified against him only because he threatened to kill her.

Now there’s a Catch-22.

She passes some of the time in the 24 or so hours before the parole hearing by hooking up with a local detective, Wyatt Cole (Desmond Chiam). This would be fine except that on Reef Island, as in any small community, odds are you’re going to run into any given person in several situations, and that soon proves to be the case with Detective Cole.

Seems that he knew as little about her history as we viewers knew, which was nothing. She was apparently known for more than just her ability to hang ten, a suspicion underscored when she runs into an old friend named Petra (Tamala Shelton) out in the surf and Petra punches her in the face.

All this before the real complications even begin.

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Melina Vidler. Even under stress, she has her phone for strength.

Those start when Nina Eastland (Melinda Vidler), daughter of the governor of Reef Island and heiress to his vast fortune, is kidnapped while kayaking in the ocean and for some reason the kidnappers designate Cat to deliver the ransom money.

This puts Cat back into the crime world, at least to the extent she’s consorting with both bad guys and good guys. It also extends her trip back to the Island into more than a drop-in, which opens the complication door much wider.

For starters, we meet Cat’s husband Jake Elliot (Ray Stevenson). We can put an asterisk next to “husband,” because she hasn’t seen him in the five years she’s been gone and their parting seems to have been marked by certain tension.

Like, she thinks he ruined her life and he thinks she ruined his career.

Seems Jake was an undercover FBI agent, which he didn’t mention until they were married and Cat had rattled off a list of the felonies in which she had participated. On the other side, hello karma, marrying her apparently short-circuited his FBI career as well.

That may explain why he now lives in a small surfer-style beach house and doesn’t seem to do much of anything. But then, you can do that, or not do that, on Reef Island, an odd cross between a rich upscale beach resort and a laid-back old-school surfer community.

Residents range from the aforementioned heiress, who has the best line of the whole show when she references social media, to a hippie dude called Otter (Stephen Hunter), no relation to the Otter from Animal House, who designs custom surfboards.

We also get to know Ana Dumont (Melissa Bonne), Wyatt’s half-sister and the point person for the governor. She’s one of the few Island people Cat didn’t know from before, a situation that will soon be remedied.

It’s all complicated, but not so complicated the viewer needs to do a lot of thinking. The show moves fast, the dialogue is snappy and plot devices like murders aren’t designed to give anyone nightmares.

It all looks a little like Hawaii Five-O, because of the sand, surf and sun stuff, though Cat’s attitude more often suggests a neurotic James Bond.

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‘Grand Hotel,’ just for fun. Spoiler: This scene doesn’t end the way you might expect.

Like Grand Hotel, Reef Break feels like a campfire tale. Watch it with popcorn or S’Mores.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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