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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"The River" finally makes waves

I watched the season finale of ABC's The River tonight, titled "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." After having almost lost interest in the series by about halfway through this first season, I'm kind of glad now that I forced myself to nurse it along. That finale was more like the show I'd expected to see that what had been coming to my DVR every week on...whatever day it aired.

The River was conceived by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity films) and Michael R. Perry (writer for Eerie Indiana, American Gothic, The Practice, Law & Order: SVU, House, among others) and executive produced by Steven Spielberg. It aired as a mid-season replacement with an initial run of eight episodes in the first season.

The premise of the show is that a well-known American nature show host, Dr. Emmet Cole (played by Bruce Greenwood), has gone missing while on an expedition on the Amazon River. After six months the search is called off, but his family decides to continue the search when a transponder signal from Cole is picked up on radar. They gather the remainder of the television crew and set out to document their journey to find Dr. Cole.

The group eventually finds Cole's disabled boat, The Magus, and begins combing through the video footage Cole and his crew left behind. That's when they realize that Dr. Cole's decades-old catchphrase which he always concluded each program with, "There's magic out there," was meant literally. They see footage of Cole apparently holding flames in his hands, treading on water, and taking part in magical rituals with primitive tribes in the jungles of the Amazon.
Their trek soon takes them to a fork in the river, and they must begin following Cole's trail up an uncharted offshoot of the Amazon...An uncharted offshoot that begins displaying some magical properties of its own. In fact, the further up the river they go, the weirder things get. They encounter a new supernatural threat in each episode--some genuinely creepy, some only vaguely so.

The season began with a powerful double episode. The creep factor was quite high, as was expected from Paranormal Activity-type camerawork coupled with an endorsement from Spielberg in a show airing on the network that brought us Lost. But my biggest complaint after that initial airing was that the momentum and adrenaline rush got lost in the week-long gap between episodes.

The other complaint I had was that it seemed to be trying to too hard to pick up the mantle laid down when Lost went off the air: "Let's be weird and crazy and only give viewers a piece of the puzzle, then make it so each new answer creates three more questions. Just like Lost!"

In all, The River might end up being a better viewing experience on DVD. Perhaps that cross-episode suspense will maintain itself more effectively if you have the ability to watch the whole thing marathon style. Being only eight 44-minute episodes, once the first season DVD collection hits store shelves in late May you can easily digest the entire season in one day if the urge strikes you. If you do, let me know how that works out for you.