One famous ’80s song offered these kernels of wisdom: ”The Reflex is a lonely child, he’s waiting by the park/the Reflex is in charge of finding treasures in the dark.” The meaningless Duran Duran lyrics are an apt analogy for Reunion, Fox’s lightweight whodunit packed with ’80s references — it could be a fun bit of pop trash if you never try to decipher any meaning from it. Reunion kicks off with a shamefully nifty gimmick: In the present day, one of six tight-knit friends has been murdered. The key to the shooting lies way back over the years, starting when the group graduated high school in 1986. Each episode covers a new year — ’86, ’87, ’88 and so on — while flashing forward to current day, where the now grown-up friends are being interrogated by Det. Kenny Marjorino (Matthew St. Patrick, a hair less gloomy than he was on Six Feet Under). He’s sure one of them did it.
This clever idea mostly bombs. The clique — a Breakfast Club-like blend including Carla, a spunky tomboy (The Practice‘s Chyler Leigh); Craig, a rich stud (life as we know it’s Tom Cruise look-alike Sean Faris); and Jenna, an aspiring actress (The O.C.‘s Amanda Righetti) — is dubiously cast with young twentysomethings. Watching them attempt to play people pushing 40 by donning bad wigs (Leigh’s pageboy is particularly challenging) is both cute and awkward, like a misguided grade-school production of The Big Chill. But even the ’80s scenes are weak because the writers are so taken with the setting, they can’t stop reminding us. Sloppily. One character calls Wham! ”the next Beatles”; another dances to ”Material Girl.” The gang dons double-layered polos, Frankie Goes to Hollywood-style T-shirts, and menswear-for-girls. In short, we’re never looking at ’86, or ’87, but an ’80s-world amalgam — and apparently anything that happened in that decade is game, even if it’s off by nearly 10 years. Look for Clinton to take office in, oh, 1990. Whatever. For all the busy surface referencing, the setting never captures the ’80s at all — the producers would be wise to review a great go-go period piece like American Psycho, which nailed the era, from the music to the tans to the acquisitiveness and elitism that extended even to business cards. (Although it was a nice touch for Kate Vernon, who played Benny in Pretty in Pink, to pop up as Jenna’s slutty mom.)
A few intriguing threads dangle: Realizing underprivileged good guy Will (American Dreams‘ Will Estes) — who went to prison on a vehicular manslaughter charge to protect Craig, the guy really behind the wheel — becomes a priest was a nice little shock. And since we’ve only seen three of the friends in modern day, the murder victim’s identity will be teased out for a bit. But the writers have gotta find a more believable means of moving the flashbacks along: Too many involve a character telling a long, overly detailed story, scenes which call to mind those repeat suicides Robert Hays inspires while telling the saga of his breakup on Airplane! Work out the kinks and this could be a silly, sorta fun soap — but Reunion is never going to be as cool as its premise.