Friday, February 10, 2012

REVIEW: The River

ABC - Tuesdays 9/8c

Following the disappearance of a beloved reality show explorer (Bruce Greenwood), his family sets out on an expedition, paid for by the same channel that lost their star, to find him deep on the Amazon jungle.  "The River" uses the Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch model of found camera footage as the narrative device, which works at times and not so much at others.

"The River" is the latest sci-fi venture on network television, blending elements of adventure, mystery and pop culture in one nice hour long.  Much like the camera work, it has its moments, and it also has the potential to evolve into something more.

1.  Is it entertaining?
Definitely the most enigmatic of the new shows; not that it involves the biggest mystery (it does), but that it could end up being quite good.  Or it could end up being awful.  It all depends on the writers and showrunners, if they can build it into something more than just a monster movie of the week.

The strange thing is that the first 20-30 minutes of the pilot are intriguing and creative at the same time, giving you hope that there is something in this show.  We are treated to the rescue crew (which consists of the missing man (Emmet)'s wife and son, as well as his cameraman's daughter; there are other camera men and their children, and then the television executives, whom we want to see killed because he is clearly a weasel, as all TV execs are).  The young girl has mysterious religious theories about the dark nature of the Amazon rainforest and the river, and about undiscovered camps and paths.

They come upon the Magus, Emmet's ship, struck aground, empty except for the knocking of a the ships innards, from someone being locked in one of the cabins.  And when I say locked in, I mean the door was shut and welded, rendering it unopenable.  Of course, everyone decides that it's Emmet and so the bonding must be cut and the captive released; except that it's not Emmet, but rather a strange being that escapes.

All that sounds exciting, it all sounds wonderful, but it's all over too quickly.  The dialogue is still clunky and childish, and people are put in situations and confrontations that are more annoying than enjoyable.  This is really what holds the show back.  Everything is exciting except for the exposition (with the exception of everything involving Emmet, there is clearly something at play here, and we need to know what) and the conversations between the majority of the crew.

2.  Is it realistic?
Idiot plots aside, I can buy that there is some weird stuff going on in the Amazon rainforest.  What I can't buy is that people can go swimming in the Amazon river without being eaten.

I accept that the son of a reality show is angry at his father, probably for being a reality show star, and doesn't want to find him.

So far everyone behaves as normal and has proper motivations, and they all interact like a collection of eccentric, different people.

3.  Are immoral acts defended?
Unless you count unsealing a welded door as immoral (since that was the only indefensible thing in the show), then this category is good.  Of course, at some point it will be revealed that the young attractive male and young attractive female were once in a relationship, or will engage in activity unbecoming single people.

4.  Are traditional family values upheld?
The wife loves the husband, the son loves his mother but dislikes his father, but still wants to find him.  That sounds good to me.

There is no sex, no violence, no adultery, nothing.  However, I am going to put an asterisk next to this one, because being a network show, I am sure that sex will play a role at some point (however large or small).
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"The River" is the newest sci-fi/fantasy genre show that attempts to claim the spot left by "Lost."  Its pilot asks many questions and offers many characters that could grow into an intriguing group of people trying to solve a mysterious plot.  It could easily become a popcorn mythology-rich show.  It could also just as easily get lost in its own mysteries, draw low viewership and be cancelled by March.  I would be willing to give it a chance, though.

Grade: C+

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