‘The River’ Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 12:35 pm,

the river series premiere The River Series Premiere Review & Discussion

From Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli and Paranormal Activity 2 writer Michael R. Perry comes ABC’s The River – network television’s attempt at transitioning the popular found-footage theatrical genre to the small screen.

Centered around the disappearance of famed explorer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), The River follows Cole’s wife Tess (Leslie Hope) and his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) as they attempt to locate the missing adventurer, with camera crew in tow. An emergency beacon, an abandoned ship, and a library of Cole’s archived videos begin to reveal the supernatural forces behind his disappearance.

But is ABC’s The River the Paranormal Activity-meets-Lost series that it positioned itself to be from the trailers?

Unfortunately, no.

Wrapped in the mystique of a mysterious jungle adventure with otherworldly forces, The River all-but-fails to lay the necessary foundation for audiences to care (or even want to care) about what’s occurring.

Instead of logically conveying some semblance of a backstory that would help drive audience intrigue until the series is able to further develop itself, The River relies on an unfortunate “trust us” approach, where information is slowly (and painfully) revealed, yet no additional narrative is provided.

While films like Paranormal Activity can thrive on simple premises shrouded in a 90-minute mystery/adventure, television series – especially in a post-Lost era – must often provide viewers with continual story-arcs, which logically tie everything together, all while the series propels forward.

the river series premiere 1 The River Series Premiere Review & Discussion

That being said, even franchise film series in the vein of Paranormal Activity must begin to meet the demand of its audiences’ need to know more about the situation presented with each subsequent installment – a development that largely ends up being hit-or-miss (largely miss). But at the point where audiences begin to question the intellectual legitimacy of the ever-expanding story, the intrigue and interest that has carried over from original premise is still enough to make for an enjoyable experience. Sadly, The River is largely unable to present that same type of calculated formatting evolution for television - which isn’t necessarily the fault of the creators, but the difficulty of the television medium itself.


As The River attempts to win audiences over with its two-hour season premiere, the simple question of “Where is Dr. Emmet Cole?” becomes muddied by an endless string of supplemental questions and mysteries – all of which generally lead to a general feeling of “I don’t care.”

For all intents and purposes, The River asks its audiences to trust it like a familiar friend, instead of one you just met. However amazing or wonderful the end result of this series may be, there are few elements that make you want sit through whatever the creators have set up in order to reach that moment. While there’s nothing inherently wrong in Peli and Perry’s intentions to bring found-footage to network television, it’s hard to call their execution anything but messy.

the river series premiere 2 The River Series Premiere Review & Discussion

From the faux filters used to imitate the look of security cameras, to the overly-shaky handheld camera work that was obviously added digitally, the lackluster storytelling that is contained within The River is made even more so by the visually appalling presentation.

With a cast of ever-dwindling actors that have generally proved themselves in other series, it’s safe to say that many of the underwhelming, emotionless performances are the result of the failures that stem from the overall production of the series itself, instead of any one actor. For example, there really isn’t any an actor that could have earnestly delivered the line “You know what, there is magic out there – so let’s go see it!” without it coming off as laughable (which it was).

Each character, whether main or supplemental, is generally depicted as nothing more than two-dimensional plot progressors who are simply waiting for the time when their character can reveal the secret information that they’ve known all along, but didn’t feel the need to say at the beginning. Again, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with having specific supplemental characters help develop the storyline, it should really only be used sparingly – and after the series has already established itself as a competent storytelling medium in its own right.

Ever since Lost came to an end, audiences have been wary of programming that asks for an emotional investment upfront, with promises of fruitful rewards later on. While pilot season after new pilot season brings varying shows trying to make use of this storytelling approach, it’s going to take a very special series to overcome whatever bad taste and/or viewer exhaustion still remains from Lost.

the river series premiere 3 The River Series Premiere Review & Discussion

And at its core, The River is nowhere near that level of television quality – something ABC already knew. With the need to add the second episode to the series premiere (which wasn’t decided until recently) – not to mention a whole lot of tweaking and rewriting to the original pilot that was presented last May (which I viewed and compare to the aired pilot), it’s really hard to fault any one person for the series.

No, The River isn’t a great show. Yes, it does do many things wrongs. And yes, I’m sure ABC feels ridiculous about getting into a bidding war with NBC over this. But when you break everything down, The River could be best looked at as a television experiment.

Sure, the experiment wasn’t anywhere near as successful as one would have hoped it to be, but sometimes that’s just what happens. If there’s one positive thing to take from The River, it’s that the entirety of the television medium now knows the difficulties of bringing this genre of storytelling to their medium – even when it’s done by Oren Peli.

As more mid-season replacement series begin to premiere over the course of the coming months, viewers shouldn’t look at The River as a continuation of network television’s dreaded mid-season dump slots for series known to underperform.  If anything, it should be the exception to the newly-formed rule of bringing great unique programming to a network television medium that asks for anything but.

And if you don’t believe that “unique” is the last thing network television wants, you can ask Lloyd Braun – the ABC executive that was fired for spending money to develop a silly little show called Lost.


The River airs Tuesdays @9pm on ABC

Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyocasio

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  1. This “spirit” that they accidently let loose and subsequently proceeds to scare most of them to death, and savagely kills a crew member, they lead you to believe that it is the most terrifying thing imaginable, then they casually get it back safely in it’s “coffin” and throw it overboard and it’s never mentioned again. Seriously? Seriously????

    I may record the next episode to see if it gets better, but if it doesn’t, I will not give it another moments thought.

    Can’t wait for “Touched” (Keifer Sutherland) to start though, now thats wht I call a pilot!

  2. Found the show very distracting. I absolutely hate the camera work and find it so incredibly contrived. That one thing made it so hard for me to get into the show. Way too distracting!

    • Was that a shaky-cam?
      I didn’t see the movie but that kind of cam work is IRRITATING as hell.

  3. I was intrigued by this show when I first saw the commercial, but once I saw that it was by the makers of Paranormal Activity, I immediately lost interest. Those movies were so bad in every way. My friend, however, convinced me to sit down and watch it with him. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a good concept that is horribly executed, much like the films.

  4. The first hour of the show had me agreeing with this review and all other negative comments. The actors were just too accepting of the wierd crap going on. But after I watch the second hour the next day I was totally into it. It had great creep factor. I still think the people in the show are too accepting and not frightened enough to be believable but I like how what was being showed with the tree, dolls etc was making me feel. I will keep watching.

  5. I watched the Pilot/2nd episode last night as I recorded it and found it disappointing. It was alright but based on the trailer spots they showed I thought it would give a show like American Horror Story a run for its money but unfortunately it fell way short. The 1st hour was very boring as it just focused on trying cheap scare tactics. Paranormal Activity was a success because it has a story that got to the point quick. This drags out. As of right now, AHS tells a better story, has better scare factor, and the actors on there make the whole show with the chemistry that they share. I will still watch next week to see if the story will improve but if it doesn’t then I feel this series will be over with before it started.

  6. I can’t understand half of what they are saying. Either the background noise is so loud or they are whispering or mumbling. This is so common with shows lately.

    • hahah!
      Yeah man, these people can’t get a decent sound-man or editor for milliosn of dollars :)

      I watched The Las Samurai with Tom Kruze and no idea what the hell he was saying. Then the sound is soooo loud I have to turn it down, then back again with the mumbling.
      Welcome to the new guard’s making movies. They think it’s cool to have MTV type of movies.

  7. I agree with pretty much all of your review, but I did enjoy the show – there were nuggets of originality there even though some of it was bogged down by using the same old formula that’s been used time and time again. I liked the idea of the premise and using Amazon myths but these weren’t really developed properly. Like one comment says above, they defeated the spirit far too easily. And I really wish TV makers would have some interesting characters – the same old stereotypes are trawled out again and again. I could live with slightly boring stories if the characters were people I wanted to send time with.

    You are right about the “found footage” style of filming. It’s an interesting and bold idea but is going to be difficult to sustain for a whole series. I’ve seen episode 2 and it’s already getting pretty tedious to watch.

    On a side note, I’m also glad to see Thomas Kretschmann in something … and he’s not playing a Nazi! Yay!

    • I specifically came on here, not so much for the reviews, but to see if I am the only one having trouble understanding much of what they are saying due to the background noise. I found what I was looking for and I glad I’m not the only one with this issue. Sadly, as much as I’d like to see how this show is going to pan out, it’s too much energy trying to understand what they’re saying, using my dvr to go back to listen again, doubling the time of the show.

  8. Heard from a friend that she watched this new creepy show. I watched the pilot episodes online and then made my husband and brother watch them too. We all watched the next episode and love this show. I realize I’m not noticing the bad effects or camera work. It hooks me and scares me. I like all the characters, information that pops up, and really want to watch more.

  9. I finally broke down and in the process of finishing the second ep. I originally dismissed it but since i am better from my sickness and actually pay attention to it then i have say for story wise it is a good show. If they had not done the PA thing with the cameras, then i believe it would be better to some degree For right now i can overlook the annoying cameras for the story is interesting enough to have me hook.

  10. I really like The River! I don’t know what anyone is talking about the sound tech problem. I heard everything perfectly fine. It has some parts that are strange and thats one of the greatest thing in the film. I mean if you want to see paranormal the go to Taps and see their show as for The River I am a fan!

  11. Yeah the river wasn’t that great and I definitely found myself not caring, but “it’s going to take a very special series to overcome whatever bad taste and/or viewer exhaustion still remains from Lost” is pretty ridiculous. I thought lost was entertaining and intriguing except for the series finale. It was great but ended kind of like the Sopranos; with everyone scratching their heads.

  12. Haters will hate. I started watching this with my family and we thought it was great, I didn’t really notice anything wrong with the show until coming on hear and reading everyone’s comments on how it sucked.

  13. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that they canceled this show. My whole family would each trade off every week and open their homes and cook dinner for everyone while we all watched te river. We all lived this show so much I am going to miss it very much. Te at first it wasn’t the best show but every episode got so much better. And I wonder if NBC got it would they have canceled it. So my family of 9 would all watch tho show every week and I know mAny people that did the same thing as us we go the idea from my aunts friend. So many people are mad yet are not doing a second season it’s such a waste they were good actors and the show was great