Have you heard of ABC’s new show, The River? If not, you may be living under a rock. You should maybe look into a house or something. Anyhoo, this new show has been promoted and advertised almost as much as Fox’s struggling dino-series Terra Nova (…with pretty much the same lackluster results).
What’s it about, you ask? Ostensibly, The River is about a group of people boating down a dangerous, possibly haunted, and un-mapped section of the Amazon river in the hopes of finding a missing Explorer-Slash-TV-Host. What it’s really about however, is ABC trying to find LOST lightning in a bottle. Again. This time around, they tapped Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli to try his magic.
“There’s magic out there” alright, but I’m not sure that ABC has quite found it yet. While I won’t completely write The River off just now… I have very little positive to say about it. The best thing about it are short-lived moments – the “footage” scenes where we’re not sure if something unnatural is moving in the images or not. These scenes are occasionally well-done, subtle, and interesting – but they’ve yet to be scary. Or even memorable. Less than 24 hours later, I’m having difficulty recalling much of note. That’s not a good thing.
So, what’s bad about it? Unfortunately, a lot – but it starts with the cast. The core characters – missing Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), his wife Tess (24’s Leslie Hope), and adult son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) are the least interesting. It’s unclear at this point whether Hope and Anderson were completely miscast or not – but both of their performances in the 2-episode premiere were terrible. And I mean terrible. It could perhaps be the writing at fault, but either way – the two hours which ABC premiered were full of unintentionally groan-worthy moments. The most interesting characters Thomas Kretschmann‘s ulterior-motived bodyguard and Paul Blackthorne‘s hilariously bad-named (Clark Quietly… no, I’m not kidding) TV producer are fun… but so far they are minor players. The family takes center stage, and you couldn’t care less about them.
It would be one thing if The River embraced it’s B-movieness with glee… but alas, it doesn’t. It’s trying so hard to be sincere about Lincoln’s daddy issues and Tess’s possible/probably affair that it’s clearly missing its calling. Can it be fixed? Maybe, but it won’t be easy. What does work (somewhat) is the taped video footage, and some of the interesting folklore they try not to mangle (too much). If they focused more on the strangeness of the area and less on the farcical family drama, they might have something here. Think: Supernatural in the Rainforest, only the characters are explorers instead of Hunters. I’d watch that… maybe.