IGN: Steven Spielberg and Paranormal Activity’s Oren Peli bring us a series about a family searching for their possibly-demented patriarch.
ABC’s 2-hour premiere event of the The River contained two episodes. This review is for the first episode, “Pilot.”
ABC, whose main demographic is said to be “affluent women,” takes a bit of a risky move with their new 8-episode horror series The River; from Steven Spielberg and the writer/director of Paranormal Activity Oren Peli. What we wind up getting is a bit of a mixed bag, but a bag that still manages to show us something new on network TV, utilizing many of the found footage camera tricks that have made the Paranormal Activity film series such a success.
With the found footage film Chronicle now in theaters, and the genre having become mega-popularized with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, many of us are very familiar with the particular beats of this genre, but The River doesn’t attempt to actually make any of the story feel like it could be real. At no point do the actors have to try and feign naturalness or overly-question why someone is holding a camera on them. While The River uses a few shots of actual found footage, its design is that of a documentary. A documentary about the search for a world famous documentarian, Dr. Emmet Cole. This is very much a TV show, complete with cliched dialogue and act breaks like you’d expect. The documentary set up however, along with the use of a lot of security-cam footage, glosses this show up and creates an excitement that probably wouldn’t exist otherwise.
Also, I enjoy the actual premise. Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Double Jeopardy) has an interesting role to play on this show. As Emmet Cole, the missing host of the very popular nature series “The Undiscovered Country,” he only shows up in old footage from his TV show or bizarre, creepy camera footage that our heroes discover along their harrowing journey. And yet his presence still has so much weight. More weight than most of the other characters we follow.
The River is not subtle. Not at all. Perhaps the fact that it’s on network TV means that everything needs to be explained and points need to be driven home until you’ve gotten the message five times over. You’re going to hear the phrase “There’s magic out there” a whole lot because it was Emmet’s catchphrase from his show, but the writers here have no faith in letting us make the actual connection of, “Wow, he said that there was magic out there and, well, he’s now looking for actual magic.” No, that will actually be explained to us. So if you’re looking for a graceful series, this ain’t it. Of course, that also makes it on par with most horror movies.
So it’s been six months since Emmet vanished on a secret expedition into the Amazon and now that he’s been officially pronounced dead his wife, Tess Cole (24’s Leslie Hope) has partnered with her husband’s production company to lead an expedition to find him. But in order for the company to float the bill both Tess and her mopey, bitter son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) must join the search since the two of them are well known to fans of the series because Emmet’s family were always a part of the show. Yes, it was a true family affair. And that’s the weakest part of this series. The vengeful, wailing spirits and creepy, dilapidated haunted river boats may keep you interested, but the family drama will do it’s best to turn your stomach. And Lincoln, as a lead, will make you want to punch him right in the neck.
Full review: http://tv.ign.com/articles/121/1217743p1.html