REVIEW: The River (ABC – Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.)

Dr. Emmet Cole is missing. 

The beloved host of The Undiscovered Country, which brought the wonder and magic of the natural world into our homes for so many years, has disappeared in the wilds of the Amazon. Gone for six months now—and believed by many to be dead—his emergency beacon went off two weeks ago. Now Dr. Cole’s wife and frequent co-host of The Undiscovered Country, Tess, has begun the search for her husband. With the help of her son, Lincoln, and crew members Lena Landry, Emilio Valenzuela and his daughter Jahel, and Captain Kurt Bryndilson, Tess is looking to be reunited with her husband and save the rest of his missing crew. 

Documenting the journey will be Dr. Cole’s long-time friend and collaborator on The Undiscovered Country, award-winning Producer Clark Quietly, and a team of renowned camera operators including AJ Poulain. 

But the search for Dr. Cole may provide more questions than answers. Where have he and the missing crew been? What mysteries of the uncharted Amazon did they capture on film? Can this family that was torn asunder six months ago be miraculously reunited? The world holds its breath as we wait to find out just what became of Dr. Emmet Cole and his crew. – ABC

83 out of 100

For almost two years fans of Lost have been looking for a replacement for the Island and its castaways and as we predicted, The River, despite not being a J.J. Abrams production, fits that bill nicely.  Now, does it matter that  Abrams has nothing to do with this project? Nope, because Steven Spielberg is the executive producer and if you haven’t noticed, when not working with him, Abrams has been imitating Spielberg for years. That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact and despite the show’s flaws (and it has several), overall it’s so good that you intentionally overlook them.  It’s kind of like when your kid gets straight A’s in school and then floods the bathroom making water balloons.  The River is basically a great kid that will get a pass here and there for screwing up occasionally.

By no means is The River a clone of Lost, but it does share a lot of the same characteristics  as Lost that make it work and we aren’t necessarily even talking about the obvious ones such as the mysterious and supernatural nature of the tropical geography (The River is also filmed in Hawaii, just as Lost was) and the cast of characters from different backgrounds with competing agendas. More importantly for fans of this genre is how The River is based on mysteries on top of mysteries and weekly development of characters that ties into the overall story.

There is certainly no shortage of action on the show but it’s not overused, either, often deferring to dialogue and slow-burn intense scenes that explode with shocking excitement. One major issue that we have with the show, however, is the handheld “shaky camera” perspective and this is a direct result of the “found footage” format that the creator of this series, Oren Peli, best known for creating and directing Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2, is so fond of.  If they had simply chosen to go with more a fixed camera perspective like what was used during the majority of the scenes in the Paranormal Activity franchise, we wouldn’t be complaining. The problem, though, is that Peli has decided to go for a style of filming far closer to his first love, The Blair Witch Project, than Paranormal Activity.  It’s very dizzying and off-putting and though lately it doesn’t seem to be as bad, there’s still too much of it.

For the most part the characters are diverse, well-developed (and they are further developed every week) and are portrayed very well by the cast with a few notable exceptions.  The biggest problem is with Tess Cole (Emmett Cole’s wife) played by Leslie Hope.  The character is so weakly written as to be a complete caricature and Pope’s wooden performance leaves a lot to be desired.  Fans of 24 will remember Hope as the late Teri Bauer, Jack’s wife, who was killed in the final episode of the first season.  Due to the obnoxious nature of the Kim Bauer character in that first season and subsequent seasons (Jack’s daughter played by Elisha Cuthbert), the battlecry post-season one from the fans was, “The wrong Bauer died.” When appraising Pope’s performance on The River and trying to figure out whether its Hope’s performance for the material she’s been given, we had to remind ourselves just how bad she was on 24  and that it was simply overshadowed by how much worse Elisha Cuthbert was.  So, in trying to give Ms. Hope some credit, we have to conclude that we can’t give her that much at all because she’s just not that great of an actor, really.  Are there script problems with her character? Absolutely.  As noted the character is very weakly written but the bigger problem is with the performance.

As far as the plot is concerned, overall it’s very well-done but by the fourth episode we noticed some falling back on the standard, predictable one-hour drama standbys for plot execution.

In the fourth episode there is an issue where a newly introduced character, cameraman Jonas Beckett (Scott Michael Foster), has to be sacrificed by the group or everyone on the boat will be killed by the supernatural forces because Jonas, against orders from Emmett Cole, filmed some native funeral rites and inadvertently stole the then dying, now dead man’s soul.  The crew argues amongst themselves over the ethical and moral implications of sacrificing one man for the greater good and when Tess (who has appointed herself to the captaincy and is considered pretty soft by everyone around her) gets information out of him, finally (information for which she implied would save him), she orders the others to get him off the boat.  The conflict still continues amongst the crew after the order is given (most specifically with her son who is against dooming the man but offers no other solutions to the predicament).  Finally, the young man (who oddly enough before this moment was more concerned about self preservation than anything else) bravely sacrifices himself to the supernatural beings and on the way to them, smashes the iPhone that he filmed the funeral on, thus releasing the stolen soul.

Now, the first reason we decided to be so detailed with this synopsis without a spoiler alert is because it was so predictable that you would have to be an idiot not to see it coming to begin with because that scenario is such a standard recycled plot.  That’s just pure laziness for what is supposed to be an original, unique and high-concept series.  The  second reason is because it didn’t end there.  Y’see, after the soul was released and the supernatural beings take Jonas away, do you know what they do next? They let him go and he joins the crew.

Basically, the resolution of this clichéd plot made the episode a complete waste of time. Furthermore, it was such an easy-out for the main moral dilemma of the episode.  There were literally no consequences for anyone in this (not even Jonas) even though there were a series of ethical and moral lines that had to be crossed.  Leave a guy for dead (even though it’s necessary) and don’t worry about it because in the end everything worked out. It was just ridiculous and it seemed like a far more appropriate ending to a 1970’s ABC After School Special than it did for ABC’s 2012 Tuesday night supernatural thriller.  We sincerely hope they never do anything that stupid again.

Our last complaint about the show is the absolute lack of any comic relief.  Yeah, we get that it’s an intense show but a little levity now and then to lighten things up and take the stress off the audience would not only be a little easier on the audience but it would also make those intense scenes that much more intense because it forces the audience to let their guard down.

Overall, even though the show does need some work, it’s a great little series that continues to keep our interest and at only eight episodes for the first season, it’s an easy commitment to make for a general viewing audience in the U.S. that isn’t particularly keen on serials.

Watch compete episodes of The River, here.

3 comments on “REVIEW: The River (ABC – Tuesday, 9:00 p.m.)

  1. Saw the pilot, was entertaining, but I understand the ratings are dropping fast so I guess this will be 1 season at the most! What you said, I don’t understand why people don’t like serials, okay, you have to invest in a show but for me that’s the only way, I get bored with most one hour shows which are not serial shows, with the exeption of NCIS perhaps.

    I also do MISS real Sci-FI on tv, damnit, give us a new serial SF show! 😉

    • The season only has eight episodes and will most likely be on Netflix streaming here in the U.S. this summer which could breathe some new life into it.

      I feel the same way about serials that you do, Marcel, but American audiences have soured on them for the most part on major network television. Cable television is a different story, entirely. Serials are doing better and better on cable and part of the reason why is, again, that investment in time. Cable series seasons are usually 13 episodes at the most.

      Yeah, I hate procedurals for the most part, with the exception of NCIS and NCIS L.A., as well. It is very rare that a procedural ever does anything but bore me because it’s always the same recycled crap.

  2. I am so hoping the new Space 2099 series is going to be broadcast on cable instead of a major network.

    Is right what you say, seen one, seen them all about those procedurals, where was the time we had 4 or 5 real SF shows on the TV, I long for such days again. Now it’s only Fringe which is serial and SF, but I want a new show in space, really hoping this changes fast.

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