Other than the animated “Ewoks” series, I haven’t encountered a more extreme example of a good show going bad in its sophomore year than “Summerland” Season 2 (2005, WB). Although the series is too scantly documented to know why this happened, one can surmise that there was no leadership in the writers’ room in Season 2; co-creator Stephen Tolkin departed, and there’s only one common scribe (Katie Botel) between the two seasons.
The characterizations remain broadly intact and the actors are still solid; and the beachfront settings remain appealing (although they could’ve used a few new establishing shots of people walking through the Playa Linda town square). But aside from an agreement that Johnny (Shawn Christian) and Ava (Lori Loughlin) won’t get together till the finale of the 13-episode season, very few other plots or arcs are logically consistent. To wit:
- Bradin’s (Jesse McCartney) nutso ex-girlfriend Sarah (Sara Paxton) runs away. We never find out what happens to her.
- Nikki (Kay Panabaker) runs for student president. We never find out the results of the election. It’s obvious Nikki did not win, as she’s never shown doing presidential duties, but still.
- At the end of Season 1, Johnny is off to Dallas to continue his real-estate career. At the start of Season 2, he returns from a winter of working on a fishing trawler off the Pacific coast. (This actually was the arc of guest star Joe Lando in Season 1.)
- Jay (Ryan Kwanten) discourages Bradin’s surfing career out of fear that he’ll follow his path as an injured ex-surfer. And then suddenly Jay is encouraging Bradin’s rise to the top of the ranks.
- Similarly, Bradin craves Jay’s coaching and management advice, and then he doesn’t, and instead opts to hang out with a bunch of a**h*** new “friends” for a few episodes.
- Nikki, always known for speaking her mind (and who ran for student president earlier in the season), is suddenly terrified of public speaking to the point where she projectile vomits on stage at a poetry reading.
“Summerland’s” second season consists almost entirely of relationship arcs where the characters just talk about it all day. Of note, the bulk of the Simon (Jay Harrington) and Ava relationship is them talking about whether they should get married. Most of the Jay and Erika (Taylor Cole) relationship is them debating whether they are mature enough to stay together, and a big rift comes about when they each expect the other person to call. And almost all of the Bradin and Callie (Danielle Savre) pairing consists of Bradin arguing that he loves her and Callie worrying that he’s only in it for the physical aspect. (And in a plot example of something going nowhere, Johnny’s restaurant is gearing up for its “opening in two weeks” almost all season long.)
There were a wealth of better options available if the writers just familiarized themselves with their own show. In Season 1, Callie was on the volleyball team and she had a male best friend who was protective of her as she pursued a relationship with Bradin. Those elements are dropped in exchange for so many similar relationship debates that the writers even have Bradin say “I feel like we’ve talked this into the ground” before he puts Callie and us viewers out of our misery by breaking up with her. Then, of course, he goes on to a will-they-or-won’t-they with Erika that mostly consists of arguing about whether they should or shouldn’t.
Toward the end, as if the writers were preparing to a move to a more kiddie-oriented network (something that didn’t happen), we get Disney- and Teen Nick-style plots such as Nikki’s fear of public speaking, Cameron (Zac Efron) getting abused by his drunken dad, and Derrick (Nick Benson) stealing a skateboard from Jay’s shop (which suddenly sells skate gear in addition to surf gear).
Jay’s arc concludes with him resolving to raise an unexpected child with his girlfriend Isabel, as he’s never had such strong feelings for someone before (the writers forgot about Erika, apparently). But everyone else has stagnated or regressed by the 13th and final episode. Johnny and Ava get together in a grace-note final scene, but because of the poor writing up to this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they split up the next day because each of them expected the other one to call.
(This blog post is part of a series about great short-lived TV shows that haven’t been released on DVD or digital or streaming services, and are rarely – if ever — shown in syndication. While some of these shows can be found somewhere on the Internet, fans of great TV want to see them get a proper release. If you’re one of those fans, your best bets are to vote for the show at TVonDVD.com or to request information from Amazon.com in the event the show gets released. This will let the copyright holder know of your interest. Find an index of my TV reviews here.)