TV Review - The River

Bruce Greenwood (left) and
Joe Anderson in "The River"
The River is a horror TV series that comes in the wake of recent horror series like American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Fringe, and Supernatural. Concept-wise and structure-wise, the show more resembles Lost, except its writing and direction is nowhere near as good. I should say that it's different but it's still different in a constrictive way.

It's basically a weekly episode of Paranormal Activity, which isn't surprising being that this show is made by the guy who made Paranormal Activity. The show deals with ghosts and demonic possessions. It's built on the found-footage genre that re-surged in popularity following The Blair Witch Project.

The premise is that a TV crew ventures down the Amazon River in Brazil to find Doctor Emmet Cole, the host of a National Geographic-like program who mysteriously disappeared six months ago. A lot of the same tricks used in Paranormal Activity to convey the story is used here. While those tricks were refreshing in the first Paranormal Activity, they are all but tired and frustrating in the third Paranormal Activity movie. They're doubly so in this series.

The first seven episodes are pulled along with the hook of whether or not the TV crew will find Emmet Cole. The TV crew includes Emmet's wife, Tess, and his adult son, Lincoln. In each episode, the crew follow clues down the river, which back-track Emmet's steps. Each episode also deals with a different monster that the crew has to battle in order to find Emmet.

A lot of the monsters they encounter are ones that have been done better in other TV shows and movies. In the seventh episode, for example, the writers rip off the monsters in 28 Days Later (2002), which would have been fine, but this particular episode fails in the way the recent movie Chronicle does. The constraints of the found-footage genre often hurts good character development. German actor Thomas Kretschmann who plays Kurt Brynildson, the man in charge of security for the TV crew, is short-changed because of this.

It's not just this episode but the way the show is produced works counter to good character development, which is why you would need strong actors. This series thankfully does have strong actors and all of them make all the negative space work. The actor who's probably the strongest is Bruce Greenwood who plays Emmet Cole.

Episode 6 is named after Greenwood's character and the episode is basically a one-man show. The episode details how Emmet mysteriously disappears and where he ended up. Emmet goes deep into the jungle where he gets lost and injured with no food or supplies to survive for days and days. Greenwood is all by himself on screen for the majority of the episode. If you're going to do a TV show or movie that literally is just one person pretty much the whole time, you're going to need an actor like Greenwood.

Greenwood is handsome, magnetic and so charming that he draws you into his story and you're with him every step of the way, even if it's further down a rabbit hole or deeper into a dangerous jungle. A year ago, Greenwood was in an independent film called Meek's Cutoff where he played the titular character who is leading a group that is becoming increasingly distrusting of him. In a sense, a similar thing happens to Emmet, but, as an actor, I never wanted to take my eyes off Greenwood.

Aside from George Clooney, I doubt that anyone else could have been put in this role and made it work as superbly as Greenwood does. Greenwood accomplishes in less than a hour what Tom Hanks in Cast Away (2000) and James Franco in 127 Hours (2010) needed about two hours to do. His character arc is so refreshing, even though it's not new and one we've seen before, but Greenwood brings you so into the moment that you're not sure what's going to happen.

He also has two heartbreaking moments that for me earns him an Emmy nomination alone. Up until that episode, he's not given as much screen time as the other members of the TV crew looking for him but this one episode eclipses them all.

But, as I said, the other actors here are strong. Eloise Mumford who plays Lena Landry and British actor Paul Blackthorne (ER and 24) who plays Clark Quietly are particularly outstanding. It'll be interesting to see what's in store for them as the season plays out. I detect a little melodramatic, love triangle stuff might be in store, one triangle involving Lena and another triangle involving Clark.

This show does take a lot from Lost but where I could see that series running for six years, which it ultimately did. I don't see The River running longer than half that amount of time. Honestly, if this series goes beyond two years, it would be pushing it. In only seven episodes so far, the show has already stretched its limits. Every episode has involved a swarm of insects. After the first three swarms, it got a little repetitive and yawning. The acting is good enough to let me overlook it for now.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesday at 9PM on ABC.


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