Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The River (2012) ***

NR, 8 44-min. episodes
Creators: Michael R. Perry, Oren Peli
Starring: Joe Anderson, Leslie Hope, Bruce Greenwood, Eloise Mumford, Paul Blackthorne, Thomas Kretschmann, Daniel Zacapa, Shaun Parkes, Paulina Gaitan, Scott Michael Foster, Katie Featherston, Lee Tergeson

I don’t believe that network television is ready for a series like “The River”. By the time it is ready, network television will be done with as we’ve come to know it. “The River” was meant to be a series for cable. I don’t know if it was shopped to the cable networks. I don’t know why ABC thought they could pull it off on network television. I’m sure the success of Oren Peli’s cinematic productions of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise made it seem like something that might possibly be a surprise hit for the network. I think ABC bought it with a big “if” in their heads and no real hopes that it would work. It was a gamble that probably went exactly the way they expected.

That being said, it was a worthwhile gamble. It didn’t work, but it made for something interesting on television. In an age when reality TV rules and 75% of everything else on TV is some version of the police procedural, “The River” was a breath of fresh air. Actually, it was a breath of searing, frightening, possibly demonic air, but that’s what made it fun.

It takes the faux documentary angle by presenting the premise that an explorer who spent his life on camera with his family has gone missing in the Amazon after some twenty years on the air. The television crew convinces his family to go looking for him with the cameras rolling. What they discover as they sail deeper into the jungle on the river is that there was some dark, scary (expletive) going on down there.

The series boasts a stellar cast with the great Bruce Greenwood playing the missing explorer. The faux documentary style allows the filmmakers to utilize some of the same creepy atmosphere that Peli created for the “Paranormal Activity” movies. By the end of the first season, the series does fall back on a crutch that has been utilized far too often in recent memory—zombies. But, those don’t play as big a role as it seemed they would at first.

It’s true that as of the writing of this review “The River” has not yet been canceled by the network. And, in this day and age of Internet services resurrecting network television’s leftovers from time to time, I suppose it’s a little early to bury this series. But, it doesn’t look good for the crew of the Magus. I think they’re going to be stuck on that river for a very long time.

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