The River debuted on ABC last night to mixed reviews across the board. The show’s creators are Orin Peli of Paranormal Activity fame (or blame) and Michael R. Perry whose writing resume will excite geeks of a certain age – Eerie Indiana, American Gothic, Millennium and more. If you’ve watched ABC for more than 3 minutes you know this already, but we’ll provide the necessary name check and remind you Stephen Spielberg produces it.
I won’t divulge any spoilers except for the basic premise. Dr. Emmet Cole is the host of a nature show called The Uncharted Country. In the early years, the show featured Dr. Cole, his wife Tess and their young son Lincoln exploring the wild and finding the “magic” in nature. Over a decade later, Dr. Cole has gone missing on his quest to find real magic in the Amazon. He left behind his wife and Lincoln who bitterly resents having grown up on television. Tess gets a camera crew together and coerces Lincoln to follow them into the Amazon to find Emmet. With the help of a local boat captain and his teen daughter they go off into the river. Along the way, Emmet’s long time cameraman’s daughter, and childhood pal of Lincoln’s, Lena Landry conveniently shows up and joins the party to look for her father who is missing along with Emmet.
What works for the show is the devilishly charming Paul Blackthorne (from the defunct way too soon Dresden Files and season 3 villain of 24) as Clark Quietly the head of the small film crew. Right off the bat Clark screams ambiguity, seemingly too devoted to the idea of filming a hit movie/show whatever the consequences. For now, Blackthorne is the highlight of the show for me. I do not know how much he knows or his motives. And he’s just pretty high up there on the hottie boombalottie scale.
The other cast members are not immediately recognizable famous names, with the exception of Bruce Greenwood as the missing Dr. Emmet Cole and Blackthorne. The cast’s relative anonymity lends itself nicely to the viewer getting lost in the fantasy of a real reality show.
Like a reality show, the cameras are all around and who knows what little secrets will get caught on film. Viewers will watch as the action plays out alternately on shaky hand held cams and regular TV cams. The River makes good use of fictional B-roll footage from The Uncharted Country. Past episodes show the Cole family during happier times, allowing viewers to grow warm and fuzzy feelings for and get to know the family. If given time to grow, I am sure we will get front row seats to the family’s disintegration.
Surprisingly, the two hour long premier did not get completely lost in the quest for Dr. Cole. Each hour featured a “monster of the week” type theme. One hour was truly a bit nerve wrecking and featured lots of scary old dolls, the other story was so-so. I was reminded of season one of Supernatural mixed with an original SYFY movie production, but minus the fun.
But of course, there are a few things not working for me in The River. One of the nit-pickier qualms I have is Joe Anderson’s (as Lincoln) awkward attempt to hide his Brit accent. His speech has morphed into something that is just distracting.
Of course there are erratic camera movements and the Blair Witch type face-cam shots. I understand their necessity for capturing the whole reality television angle, but I don’t know if it’s something I want to watch for an hour every week. There are many reasons I don’t watch Ghost Hunters and the like, those cameras are one of them. Their erratic, headache-inducing movements make me feel captive to the screen- if I turn away or blink I will miss some tiny little happening. And in shows like this, sometimes that’s all there is, little things. Will that be worth my one hour a week investment?
And in the Things I Learned from Scary Movies pile- why go somewhere when locals all tell you to avoid it? I will never understand the disregard of local wisdom in all things scary.
Overall, I enjoyed the Paranormal Activity movies; I wasn’t overwhelmed or terribly frightened by them, but I appreciated the concept and I will see the recently announced fourth one. The River is more of the same. I was not immediately sold on the show or taken in by the characters. I do see a hint of a promise in there though. At this point, if I could change anything, I would inject just a bit of humor. I know it’s a serious situation, life, death, magic, angry spirits, crazy dragonflies- but some levity is necessary. Nothing so drastic as the knee slapping sort but some acknowledgement of the crazy situation they are in or subtle inside jokes for fans of the genre. The humor is what kept me in there for the rough beginning Supernatural had. I’ll give The River a few more episodes before I recommend it or bail on it. I’ll keep you posted and am anxious to see what you have to say.
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- Editorials and Reviews (135)
- Interviews (19)
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- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
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