Summer broadcast dramas can generally be slotted into three categories: cheap foreign imports (Taxi Brooklyn), “event” series (Under The Dome, Extant), and “holdovers” like Reckless. These are the shows that were ordered with the rest of the new series from the previous season, but were held until the slower summer months. Historically, this has been a sign that the network is unhappy with the series, with the presumption being that a show like Reckless would have gotten a spot on the fall or spring schedules if CBS had confidence in it. But in recent years, summer shows have been purposefully held for this season, based on either tone or content that fits what networks think audiences are looking for between June and August.
Based on Reckless, CBS has decided that when warm weather grips the nation, audiences are looking for an incompetently plotted but sexually charged legal procedural. Set and filmed in the oppressive humidity of Charleston, South Carolina—a fact reinforced with an overwhelming number of establishing shots in each episode—Reckless wants to see viewers sweat and seems convinced that it doesn’t need to offer much of substance to garner their attention.
The show is ostensibly a series of events that give lawyers Roy Rayder (Cam Gigandet) and Jamie Sawyer (Anna Wood) an excuse to flirt with each another. Roy’s a Southern gentleman going through a divorce; Jamie’s a strong-headed “Yankee lawyer” who’s always in his way. Both characters arrive right out of a romance novel: Roy’s restoring a boat (shirtless) and navigating a new relationship with his two daughters, while Anna’s caught between her flirtations with Roy and her detective boyfriend (Adam Rodriguez). As they square off with one another in the courtroom, the show rarely has much interest in the legal case on display, fast-forwarding through complicated legal wrangling to maximize the time the two lawyers spend sparring.
Gigandet fails completely at crafting a believable Southern accent, and Wood is given nothing but “Yankee lawyer” and the lazily deployed North/South dichotomy to play with. But the show works best when it’s just two vaguely charismatic, attractive people flirting through the windows of a dilapidated screen porch or watching sexually illicit evidence side by side and getting turned on. Plus, the character work gets more in-depth as the season progresses. Henleys are unbuttoned, dresses are unzipped, and the show does a decent job of delivering on its romantic procedural auspices, provided one accepts its ability to appear competent as a procedural is roughly equivalent to Gigandet’s accent work.
And yet the show isn’t called Vaguely Charismatic, Attractive People Flirting. It’s called Reckless, and Roy and Jamie’s will-they/won’t-they takes place in a world of dirty cops and the dirty games they play. Shawn Hatosy has the honor of playing someone who may as well have the series’ title as his middle name: Officer Terry McCandless threatens defendant’s family members, organizes evidence planting schemes, and sits at the center of a date rape group sex tape scandal against fellow officer Lee Anne Marcus (Georgina Haig). Although Roy and Jamie are on opposite sides of the subsequent lawsuit—Roy as city attorney, Jamie as Lee Anne’s lawyer—it’s also an excuse to explore another wing of romance fiction, as Lee Anne is trapped between the sexually abusive Terry and her hotheaded disabled war veteran husband.
This side of the show is a mess. The show opens with Terry and Lee Anne roleplaying a sexual fantasy, and when the title card pops up, it might seem the show wants viewers to think about sex in fetishistic terms. But while the show wants to be kinky, it also builds an entire storyline around the police arguing a rape was consensual, evoking sexual violence but seeking to section it off from the fun ways sex functions in the rest of the series. While director Catherine Hardwicke’s pilot seems invested in using the camera to track the perversions of these male figures, subsequent episodes want to spin Lee Anne’s fate into a romance novel of its own. The result is an inconsistent exploration of male power that’s highly unpleasant when positioned alongside the series’ lighter froth.
The show wants to say things about how men treat women: There is undoubtedly a statement in the fact an offhand joke about Hooters in the pilot is followed up Lee Anne getting a job at a comparable establishment in the second hour. Despite being a Southern gentleman, Roy slips into misogyny on occasion, and the show lashes out at him for it. But the critique has no teeth, coming as it does in a show that bases its serial element around sexual violence and abusive relationships but also seems primarily concerned with the steamy summer soap opera side of the equation.
Created by Dana Stevens, Reckless is another show set in the tourist South, which locks the region in its historical contrast with “the North” and trades any meaningful engagement with place identity—the pilot bends over backwards to avoid issues of race—for Roy driving his boat to work with a suit under his waders, and a soundtrack featuring both “Fortunate Son” and a “Fortunate Son” remix. It wants to create a world where viewers can come to relax, but also a world where they come to get off, and it wants to do it all in the guise of a legal procedural with a dash of political drama and crime show thrown in for good measure.
If people are really invested in Cam Gigandet in various states of undress, then it’s plausible this version of Reckless is poised to be a summer success story. But as it meanders through half-hearted legal cases and weaves in uninteresting municipal politics, Reckless ultimately rests on a half-decent central romance buried in muddy sexual politics. That’s far from the best way to relax or get off, as far as summer programming goes.