The River: Magus/Marbeley

“Give me the bear!”

ABC’s latest attempt to replace Lost premiered with a two-episode starter kit on Tuesday. The River tells the story of a group of plucky heroes searching for one Emmet Cole, missing TV naturalist. The search is funded by a television network, so it is being filmed. The clues leading to Cole’s body (alive, dead, or otherwise engaged) consist of found footage. In other words, take your Dramamine: shaky cam ahead.

Creator Oren Peli made his name with the Paranormal Activity franchise, which IMDb informs me is in its fourth—fourth!—incarnation. He is joined by TV veteran Michael Perry, who has worked on everything from The Dead Zone to Persons Unknown to Law and Order: SVU. Their combined skills, along with some likely input from exec producer Steven Spielberg, mean a lot of TV-savvy. Peli and Perry know all the tricks, and they use most of them in the first two episodes of the show: everything from nonsensical meta-commentary on the nature of TV production (including shots of camera guys filming themselves looking into another camera) to the barely-there monsters that are habituates of the Amazonian rainforest.

The show doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, though. I’d expected a horror-filled thrill-ride, and purposely avoided watching it late at night. The River, however, is not scary. Only one scene made me jump, and it wasn’t a blood-soaked rampage glimpsed through “naturalistic” camera work. It was the sound of a teddy bear falling to the ground. And the adrenaline rush of that moment was undercut by the risibility of the tree covered in dolls. Creepy, yes. But so obviously meant to be creepy that it was funny.

The motivating contrivance has potential, but some of ABC’s recent shows (see also: this and this) make me wonder if their executives sit around in posh conference rooms, munching on donuts and trying to figure out how to milk the flashback structure for... just... one... more... show.

The structure could easily be forgiven if I cared more about the characters, but it’s difficult to get a sense of them in the middle of all the blood-curdling screams. Basically, they’re all fodder for the overriding mystery, because they all have links to the missing Emmet Cole, who went missing on a search for “magic” in the Amazon. The rules behind that magic are unclear: it seems to be a hodgepodge of legends, ghost stories, and a prevailing belief in the essential spirituality of brown people.

Final Thoughts: Meh. If it were summer, I’d probably give this show a shot—there are only six episodes left, which seems to promise some fast satisfaction. But given the busyness of this season’s schedule, and the fact that I think next week it airs opposite some new Storage Wars episodes, I’ll probably give it a pass.

Two out of four teddy bears.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

4 comments:

WhyMe said...

I happily disagree,
I watched it at night, round 2 am. You should have watched it at night :).

In any case, its too early to say that the characters are not interesting. I especially found the mother to be excellent in her performance, and the guilt motive fit perfectly.

Also, even though there were flashbacks, I found the overall theme to be "Blair witch project" rather then lost.

I think they have lots of room for ruining this, but I will watch to see what happens.

Faye Brainard said...

Completely agree with your commentary Josie. My husband and I watched it, we were so excited about it because it had been so hyped up. We just kept looking at each other saying "It's LOST on a boat...complete with a smoke monster" I know they aren't exactly alike but it was enough to make it look like a rip off. The characters did not pull me in at all, I guess the only thing that really creeped me were the dolls hanging from the trees. Only six episodes left? I will probably watch at least one more to see if it gets better. Thanks for the review!

Billie Doux said...

I think I'll wait until the season finishes airing, and if it gets some good critical buzz, I'll rent it.

Loved the review, Josie.

Anonymous said...

I actually really liked this one. It had enough to hold my interest for the two hours and made me jump a few times.

The only thing that kinda bothered me was the fact that the Coles and the whole format of the nature show reminded me so much of the late Steve Irwin and The Crocdile Hunter. During the opening minutes that we got background information, all I could think was, "This guy is Steve Irwin." So that kind of bugged me for some reason.

The dolls scared me. They really did. I jumped a couple of times because of them. I was less impressed with the ghost/demon/hungry spirit thing. We really couldn't get a decent look, and it really wasn't that scary. Well, it was but I didn't care about the characters enough to find it scary.

Overall, I thought this was a decent start. I agree that having this premiere over the summer might have worked better. But I'm going to keep watching.