Great TV Shows Taken Before Their Time: Summerland

The cast of Summerland

Summerland premiered on The WB during the summer of 2004. The pilot and plot were intense and the cast was as brilliant as they were sexy. Lori Loughlin (90210), who was also the co-creator and producer of the series, stars as lead Ava Gregory, a fashion designer living with four friends in sunny Summerland, California. Her roomates consist of Susannah (Merrin Dungey, The King of Queens), Ava’s best friend and business partner, Johnny (Shawn Christian, Days of Our Lives), Ava’s ex-flame and the closest thing to a live-in husband that she knows, and Jay (Ryan Kwanten, True Blood), an Australian surfer and friend to the group. Their lives become exceedingly complicated when Ava’s sister and brother-in-law are killed in a storm and she discovers that she was named guardian to her nieces and nephew.

Talk about camaraderie.

The four adults each embrace their role as parental figure. Susannah bonds with 13-year-old Nikki (Kay Panabaker, No Ordinary Family), Johnny becomes a father figure to 9-year-old Derrick (Nick Benson), and Jay sees a lot of himself in 16-year-old Bradin (Jesse McCartney). In an attempt to help get Bradin’s mind off of the tragedy of losing both of his parents, Jay has him help out at his surfing shop and hooking him up with Erika (Taylor Cole, The Event) for surfing lessons.

Jay and Bradin’s relationship gets testy early, since Bradin is jealous of Jay’s relationship with Erika, who he’s taken a liking to. Erika, as a character, offered a depth that went beyond being the (insanely attractive) love interest for the show’s two surfing bad boys. The detail devoted to each of the eight primary characters is one of the reasons this series stood out in the two short seasons it aired. With enough back-story amongst the primary adult characters to make an already complex situation even more complicated, and addressing such topics as sexual harrassment, preteen suicide, teenage drinking and drug use, sex, and corporate corruption, the drama was never at a loss.

Jay and Bradin talking surf

As with any series featuring younger actors in prominent roles, this series took a risk in casting so young. McCartney shines, and his role on Summerland may have been what kick-started what has become a very successful music career. Panabaker is also a bright spot as Nikki, particularly when it comes to challenging Ava and Susannah’s characters. Benson often lacks personality, but is only ever really cringe-worthy in the pilot. It also serves as Zac Efron’s first major acting role, as he was cast as Cameron, Nikki’s best friend and sometimes romantic interest. Also, the High School Musical star’s association to the series should not be enough to warrant judgment. He did have a guest role on Firefly, after all.

The astonishing Taylor Cole as Erika

The plot is tricky, and it’s not hard to wonder whether the WB picked this up to be a successor to 7th Heaven and a contemporary to Everwood and The O.C. It’s amazing, actually, to see how much different the CW currently is in comparison to what The WB was before its merger with UPN. Summerland, with a unique premise, a cast that was easy on the eyes, and a respectful focus on family values, is a prime example of the type of drama that should be on air today.

Original programming during the summer months is usually reserved to burn off the series that never made it to prime time, but there was something very charming about this series during its airing from June-August. Of course, charm does not equal profit, but neither does a mid-season airdate for an underrated and under-the-radar drama. In its two seasons, Summerland took a familiar genre and managed to find its own identity with its original plot and setting and making it work. This was a really good show, and the writing quality, especially in terms of character development, warrant its place among this list of TV shows taken before their time in recent years.


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