Review: Reef Break 1×1 (US: ABC)

You don't have to be French to like it, but it helps

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Although France has a reputation for being a bit anti-American, its TV schedules suggest a different story. They’re packed with US imports, the popularity of which can endure for far longer than in their own countries.

We’ve recently discussed France’s love affair with Starsky & Hutch, but a far more recent hit, far more popular in France than it was in the US, was Unforgettable, starring Without A Trace‘s Poppy Montgomery.

Small surprise, therefore, that Montgomery is the lucky star of Reef Break –the latest project from that most Americophilic of the French channels, M6, and ABC Studios International’s second international show following Harrow.

Reef Break

On reefer

Created and written by both Montgomery and Numb3rs‘ Ken Sanzel, Reef Break is set on the fictitious US Pacific territory of ‘Reef Island’ and sees Montgomery playing a crime-solving surfer.

No, really.

Of course, episode 1 explains how Montgomery becomes a crime-solving surfer. Previously a hot-shot crime-committing surfer, she ran into hot water when she accidentally married undercover FBI agent Ray Stevenson (Rome, Punisher: War Zone, Thor, Dexter) and ended up testifying against various mobsters.

Returning after an absence of five years to explain why one particular mobster she testified against shouldn’t be granted parole, her notoriety lands her on TV and she’s soon dragged into the kidnapping of a local rich girl.

Soon, her rule-breaking, criminal acuity, observational skills and downright sassiness endear her to powerful people on the island.

The cast of Reef Break

Summer stupid break

It is, of course, the summer season, so it’s a little hard to tell if Reef Break is as supremely stupid as it is because it’s a summer show, it’s co-produced by M6 or it’s simply genetically stupid. I think it’s possibly all three.

Would that it were both summer stupid and interesting, though. Most of the first episode is devoted to showing us how super-smart and full of wiles Montgomery is. This is largely done by relativism rather than absolutism, with Montgomery simply smarter than the half-wits around her.

For example, in the episode’s first scene, she initially identifies that the plane she’s on contains a passenger who is a bank robber. Oddly enough, he:

  • Has a bullet wound
  • Is covered in blood
  • Keeps checking the bag in the overhead locker in which all the cash is stored
  • Has a gun strapped to his leg that he somehow managed to get through the notoriously lax LA airport security.

Genius, huh?

She kindly identifies said robber to the unobservant air marshal after the plane lands, not mid-flight as she didn’t want a shoot out. Of course, he instantly starts a shoot out, despite all the other passengers being around, so Montgomery hurls a full suitcase about 20m at the hostage-taking bank robber that he then trips over, all the while sauntering between the bullets, even though everyone else is taking cover.

Everyone here is stupid – Montgomery is simply the least stupid. Apart from maybe Ken Sanzel. Or the audience.

Poppy Montgomery in Reef Break
Poppy Montgomery in Reef Break

Give me a reef break

Obviously the show fits firmly in the Castle mould as something not to be taken too seriously. All the same, in comparison to a decent summer show like Royal Pains, it leaves a lot to be desired. None of the other characters are allowed to have personalities, particularly Montgomery’s one-night-stand-turned-police-partner Desmond Chiam, who is there just to bark in annoyance at her.

Stevenson seems half-asleep, erring more towards “I’m on holiday!” than “former hardcore FBI agent”. There’s an annoying teen (Tamela Shelton) who’s annoyed with Montgomery for causing her father’s death, said annoyance basically manifesting as poor surfing etiquette rather than anything interesting.

But this is largely the Poppy Montgomery show, exec produced and starring Poppy Montgomery and made by Poppy Montgomery fans. It’s got some nice location shooting and the occasional explosion to jazz things along, but I think you basically have to be French to like this.


  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.