‘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. Shakey cams annoy me, with some action so shrouded by movement and darkness, I couldn’t tell what was happening. This doesn’t make me more curious. It makes me lose interest. The only real eerie moments involved the dolls and Teddy Bear.

    Can this show hold our interest long enough to provide answers to whatever questions might be generated, for those who care? Judging by the latest TV ratings, many people don’t have a long attention span anymore.

  2. This was so good, IMO. Original, freaky, believable, just all around well done.

    The second episode was especially freaky. It gave me nightmares. I loved it!

  3. I think that the critic is being too negative on the show. I thought that it was not that bad and I am looking forward to watching more in the future. Although there were some very silly lines and some of the plot was somewhat confusing, it still had enough to make me want more.

    The scenes with the dolls and the teddy bear were especially creepy and when the first doll closed her eyes, I shuttered.

    I think that the charcters will develop into people that you care about, I especially liked Joe Anderson, the son, I think that we may have a few interesting skeltons in his closet.

    I will continue to watch the show.

  4. I watched and was totally disappointed. Thinking it was like LOST it appeared to be endless jungle and river water and wierd noises. Frankly, how can this little boat have room for all sorts of movement and mystery? It can’t. The show seemed 5th grade level stuff. Very boring characters and predictible sequences. I think this is a show that is over before it got started.

  5. I didn’t follow Lost as religiously as some did, so, I guess my expectations were much different. I enjoyed the cast, especially Bruce Greenwood, and the story was interesting enough that I’ll keep watching. To me, it seemed like this was more of ‘an event’ than an ongoing series. Sad to see that the reviewer was so disappointed by the offering.

    • LOL@Tundrabeast

      • Lol! Well said. 😉

  6. I loved it. It’s freaky, and totally different form Lost. Even comparing it to it is not fair, since this show has it’s own thing going on.

  7. I laughed at most of the “scary” moments… the doll tree is a worn out overused scare tactic. I literally chuckled when the dolls fell. Ha. It was lame. The doll closing her eyes behind the cameraman was an eerie moment but they flubbed it by the doll closing her eyes instead of opening them. A doll opening their eyes is much scarier in my opinion. The mother yelling at Travers’ ghost was ridiculous and everything just moved to fast for me. I’ll continue to watch… because let’s be honest… as much as this series fell short in it’s debut, we have slim picking and I have to watch something. Alcatraz isn’t fulling my needs either… let’s hope it gets better and honestly I think it might. The delivery of the pilot was sloppy and felt shoved down my throat… now that it’s over hopefully we can all digest it, pass it smoothly and move on to the tasty story to come.

    • Did you see the monkey wearing the doll’s head as a hat????? That was one of the freakiest things I’ve ever seen!!!

  8. I still think there’s an audience for The River, though I’m basing that on the Paranormal Activity box office figures. It will never reach the depth of the mythology Lost concentrated on, but there’s enough mindless fun and scares to keep the casual fan coming back for more.

    My favorite part of the premiere was the story of the little girl who drowned in the river.

  9. Overly hostile review. I’m more than willing to give the series a chance. They do throw a lot at you with little explanation, but it still delivered a fun two hours of imaginative TV. Especially the 2nd hour. People don’t have to build a cult around it like Lost, just expect to be a bit of popcorn escapism and leave it at that.

  10. I personally enjoyed the first two episodes from beginning to end. I was scared, saying “wtf” to myself countless times and even got teary eyed because it was incredibly interesting. The critic is definitely on the negative side. I never watched Lost so I can’t give my comparison but knowing that the creator is from PA, we can already expect it to be the same concept.

    Think of it this way…8 little paranormal activity events for this series instead of Paranormal Activity 8 in theatres near you!

  11. This television series has a predictable storyline, is poorly written, poorly acted and, frankly, not scary at all. I was looking forward to something special. The show begins with the crew and family hearing pounding noises that resounded through a ship stranded on the side of a river. The booming noises end up coming from behind a metal hatch that was meticulously welded shut. So the wife knocks on the door and proclaims: “we’ll get you out” my husband. Really? C’mon. Really? People just aren’t that stupid, and from then on I knew the show was going down hill — especially when the “thing” inside bolts from the ship, only to come back later and kill. zzzzzzzz.

  12. Really disappointing. The shaky camera, dark locations and unbelievable occurrences–I know it’s billed as a “Lost” type show—but it fell way below my expectations. I thought the acting was sub par and I actually fast forwarded the last 45 minutes as I had put the show on my DVR. I will not invest any more of my time watching this.

  13. They did try, I couldn’t make it past 70 minutes and I had to turn this turkey off. I don’t know what was worse–the non-stop shaky cam or the poor script that was so hokey. Cheesy. Nice try since it beats most of what’s on TV…but needs improvement and I hope the episodes improve since I’ll tune in again.

  14. “The River” is essentially “The Blair Witch Project” set in the Amazon.

    • The Blair River Project

    • My first impression was also lost meets Blair witch

  15. Watched the first hour and got tired of watching the shaky, dark camera work. Second hour lasted 10 – 15 minutes (until first commercial break) – then it was on to “normal” tv. Won’t waste my time with really cheesy lines and not very good acting. There is better out there in tv land. Why do writers think people are so dumb and why are they so dumb? Why would folks terrorized by something in the night camp under a doll laden tree in a cemetery in the middle of the Amazon Jungle? Come on! Be more intelligent than that.

  16. I’m sadly with the majority of posters and was disappointed. The problems were one of both believability and trying WAY too hard.

    First off who actually takes a full camera crew into the jungle not to mention fully outfitting a boat like it was Big Brother? That alone was reaching and a blatant ploy to try and make it feel like actual footage. I don’t care what their explanation was for doing it, I is just not believable. The other problem though is all of this supposed cut footage is then interspersed with flashbacks and actual camera scenes. What made movies like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield marginally believable was, they all stuck to a single viewing format.

    Then you get completely set up and contrived circumstances like having a graveyard handy with the ghosts dead mother. If the ghost could have such a tangible effect on the world WHY did she have to have someone else dig the body up? Not to mention someone in the party just so happens to know the ghost story of the girl and the doll tree (so they could solve the mystery)

    There were some fun moments and I stuck around for the full 2 hrs but it’s doubtful I will continue watching. LOST was lightning in a bottle so stop trying to recapture it with some different angle and move on.

    • Guess you don’t know your ghost mythos.. Silly goose. Everyone knows they can only manifest for short periods of time. Digging up mom would have been… “unrealistic”

  17. I have not seen one episode of Lost nor have I viewed Paranormal Activity. This show held my interest through both episodes. There were two main negatives for me: The cast and the pace. The cast admittedly is boring. There is not one character that stands out. The pace was too fast for me. Those negatives aside, the show kept me interested and wanting more.

    After the failure of Terra Nova, I was saddened to see Spielberg’s name attached to this series. The preview was interesting enough that I figured I’d give the pilot a view. I’ve read a (seemingly) 99:1 ratio of negatives compared to positives. Luckily for me, this was after I already watched the first two episodes so my viewpoint was not tainted by the elitist reviewers amongst the blogoshpere.

  18. I will give this a watch on the website, since I usually work when it broadcasts, but while it looks like it might be OK, the “found footage” approach is a sure-shot failure!

  19. I can see the potential in the show, but the execution fell flat. Bruce Greenwood is a joy to watch no matter what he does, and his character was the only believable one.

    So many plot holes and contrived situations made it hard to get lost in the story. The most glaring one was how fast these people must heal. The blonde was flouncing around in jungle water immediately after being laid open by the killer soul monster. Mom trekked through the jungle after a double injury. That bothered me more than the cheesy lines which were delivered with zero emotion throughout. (Not to mention the strange voice of the son apparently caused by the actor trying so hard to cover his British accent.)

    I was so excited about this show and will give it another chance, but only because it’s worth it all to see Bruce Greenwood.

    • i found this review to be spot on. the show was boring. joe anderson is annoying as hell. the hot blonde with the “always scared” look on her face is a terrible actress. the “found footage” pov is worn out. they even used the “let’s speed up the video of people sleeping and make it look like something grabbed someone and dragged them 10 feet from where they were sleeping” bit, just like in all 3 paranormal activities films. i see an early cancellation in this series’ future. i will watch 1 more episode to give it a chance, but it just looks too contrived for my taste.

  20. Boring. Predictable. Unlikable characters. Even Supernatural looks great compared to this. The show should have mixed some humour and personality in with its scares. As it is, I won’t waste any more time watching it.

  21. The show held my interest and will definately be tuned in next week. It is ridiculous to even try to compare any show to “Lost”.

  22. The River itself is not that bad.

    I didn’t mind 90min of shaky cam. However seeing the whole season back-to-back when the dvd is out will be a challenge.

    What really annoyed me were the “lead” characters, especially the mother… she is like straight out of a mental facility. The son also shows signs of some kind of neurosis… once he is calm, and in the next minute he is histerical… The only likeable for me characters so far are the spanish mechanic’s daughter and the camer guy. And the military guy is kind of tough creepy – nice.

    The second espisode I agree was awsome when it comes to “creepy motives”. Masked monkey, doll tree, Birtish cemetary in the middle of the amazon (btw. if there is a cemetery there should some kind of a settlement don’t you think?), legend of a drowned girl – it all was cool and fresh.

    I agree however with Anthony that the story arch is a bit boring. A quest to find the father… and when the find him? Will they try to explain the ‘magic’? It seems to me, unfortunately, that the story, just like the characters, does not know where it is floating…

  23. Agree with most of the people… this was entertaining enough to keep me watching. Interesting that they only went with 8 episodes, which will hopefully lend itself to a tighter “storyline.”

    I also agree with the folks who said this was an overly hostile review. It was loaded with what felt like a lot of cynicism and jadedness, which is an indication that it might be time for the reviewer to step back and smell the popcorn. Some people shovel way too much sh@t into what should otherwise be nothing more than “popcorn escapism” (good term JohnnyG).

    Just sayin’…

  24. Lasted about 35 minutes, its terrible and why does a girl brought up on a boat with English speaker’s, not have any English skill’s.

  25. Kinda funny how cats are crying about “realism” on a show about ghosts and magic..
    Well, if you want to really wonder about something, why not ask “why isn’t the Captain and his daugther speaking Portuguese?”

    • My2Cents,

      Good point about the language, I didn’t think of that (although Brazilian is not quite the same as Portuguese), but I suppose Spanish is more “acceptable.”

      One favorite (sarcasm) scene was when the young woman got into the Amazon river within hours of being treated and bandaged for a deep gash in her leg.


      • You both made the same false assumption that I did at first. Yes, they should be speaking Portuguese, if they are from Brazil. But, you forget that the old man and the daughter worked with the father before and that doesn’t mean they worked for him in Brazil.

        The father did expeditions all around the world and the boat crew doesn’t originate in the country that is currently in.

        Having argued that point, the real mistake is a Spanish speaking crew knowing how to understand and translate native Brazilians and knowing the jungle mythos of that country.

        Portuguese and Spanish are not the same language. Period.

        • negacrowber,

          Good point. And I realize that Spanish and Portuguese are not the same language. I’m Portuguese. :)


          • LOl…that was not directed at you Vic, but on the lazy production of the River to not get that either make the cast speak Portuguese or realize there is a fundamental difference between the two languages and cultures and they do not share the same mythos.

            I mean is there a chupacabra in Portugal?

      • I was thinking the same thing during the second episode of how could she be walking with them without any pain.

  26. I don’t think Mr. Ocasio went far enough in in his condemnation of the River. While I was fully prepared to suspend disbelief for this type of adventure/horror show, I was not prepared for the outright stupidity of this offering. I would be hard put to think of another show this bad. The show is poorly conceived and horribly written.

    I would list the problems individually, but they are far too numerous. I forced myself through the first episode, but when the doll’s head moved (ala Chucky) in the second episode, I gave up. That was when the group, having already had several supernatural experiences, decide to camp in an old graveyard. All while trying to find a violent paramilitary group that may be holding the father; armed with two guns and 10K cameras.

    If the network hadn’t invested a bundle in this show, it would already have been cancelled.

  27. I absolutely loved the show. Yes, I did think some of the lines were hokey but I thought that they were perfect for relieving some of the tension that I felt build up as I anticipated something scary. I’m a fan of the camera work because it made me feel like I was a part of the adventure. I think that this critic was way too harsh with their review. In fact, this review lost lots of credibility with me due to typos and poor use of the English language.

    ‘all of which generally lead to a general feeling of “I don’t care.”’


    ‘Yes, it does do many things wrongs.’

    It’s a shame that even professional writers have trouble proofreading in today’s society. There really is magic out there.