Chances are you’re missing the new “dramedy” series “Life’s Rewards’’ on Amazon Prime. The eight-episode streaming series feels more like an informercial to promote tourism in Tampa Bay. In fact, each of the short episodes – they’re only about 15 minutes long – was shot entirely in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and surrounding communities.
The “informercial” remark wasn’t meant as a crack: “Life’s Rewards” actually was financed by Visit Florida and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, with each organization contributing $275,000.
The story, which premiered May 10, follows a 30-something New York wealth manager whose career is suddenly derailed after catching the eye of federal regulators. When his assets are frozen, he’s forced to live off his accumulated hotel points, which allow him to stay for free at the historic Don Cesar in St. Pete Beach.
(BTW, if a building could get an acting credit, the Don deserves one in this series. It has more screen time than most of the actual human characters with nary a glance at competing hospitality giants in the same area.)
As the main character Dan (played with infectious charisma by Sebastian Rocha) finds his life’s focus again, famed local sites such as the Salvador Dali Museum, Chihuly Collection at Morean Arts Center, Al Lang Stadium (for a Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer match), Tarpon Springs’ sponge docks and Safety Harbor’s Philippe Park all serve as backdrops in the story.
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Being a longtime resident of Tampa Bay (now living “abroad” in Orlando for the past 9 years), I found the site-seeing moments among the most satisfying gems of the series. And there’s no denying that Rocha – along with castmates Jared Wofford, Katie Cross, Kelly Castro and Jorge Diaz – share a pleasant chemistry among themselves.
The story itself though? Well, not everything has to rise to the level of Shakespearean theater. There’s nothing wrong with a cheesy-but-kitschy, life-affirming tale set in the summer sun. And let’s face it: We’ve had enough guff about “Florida Man,” hanging chads and mermaids who work for the state. A lean but heart-lifting script – bundled into 15-minute episodes – feels like the proper online “amuse-bouche” before a night of today’s overly dark TV fare. (We doubt the Pennsylvania tourism board is kicking in any funding to HBO for Kate Winslet’s “Mare of Easttown” series on cable.)
And if you do unexpectedly grow addicted to Dan’s rollercoaster revival in Tampa Bay, enjoy this good news: “Life’s Rewards” doesn’t wrap up the storyline at the end of the eight-episode season. Will we get a season two? Tourism officials say wait and see.