Television Review: The River
Sometimes friends take great strides to remind you that they are really geeked about the premiere of a new television program. Maybe you happen to have plans the night of the premiere. Maybe they text you to say you are an asshole for forgetting about the new show. Their new show. Most of the time these friends’ efforts are futile, because there’s nothing good on television anymore. Sure, Top Chef is pretty good. Delocated just started up again. Seinfeld re-runs always provide a chuckle. Last month Jeopardy included a Killdozer reference and a donkey punch reference. Netflix provides some nice options (Snuffbox! Korean thrillers! Documentaries!). But new television shows? Sorry, friends. I’ve fallen for this one already. American Horror Story was entertaining but by no means exemplary. Alcatraz sucked. The first two episodes of Work It were genius but that’s because we had a drinking game centered on it. Person Of Interest lost my interest. Are you seeing a trend here? What makes you think I’d enjoy The River?
Someone compared it to LOST. Someone said it was written or directed by the guy responsible for Paranormal Activity. But I didn’t even like that movie! The little trailer they played before the show began made it at least appear interesting, but then The River started and it was all downhill from there. For two hours all I could focus on were the minor annoyances that piled up until they were no longer capable of being ignored. It was, for lack of a better term, a boat wreck. On a river in the middle of nowhere. And I was stuck for the duration.
If I had to pitch the show to you it would sound something like this: Take the supernatural intrigue of LOST, view it through a lens unfortunately colored by Flash Forward, shot as if it’s The Truman Show. There’s “magic”, there’s (perhaps!) weird government or Big Business shenanigans at the heart of said “magic”, and we see it entirely through cameras filming the action. Trust me, it’s as annoying as you might imagine when you can’t see all the action. It’s even more annoying when the show wastes time explaining where all the shots are coming from. There was a scene last night where some weird blood-hungry ghost spectre thing is chasing all the characters around their boat, but because we’re watching entirely through stationary and mobile cameras, we end up seeing more of the two camera running scared than we do the actual ghost thing. Super annoying.
The other problem with writing for television as opposed to movies is that you kind of have to wrap your story up in a set amount of time (22 minutes, 45 minutes, whatever), and when you’re dealing with a lot of intrigue and mystery the leads to lots of rapid action that generally doesn’t make sense. In the case of The River — I guess, because there have only been two episodes so far — it seems like they want to introduce viewers to a different phantasm every week. Well, that’s all well and good (even if it’s a little bit Scooby-Doo-ish) except that it means you’ve got to deliver a lot of information about said phantom in a short amount of time because you’ve already wasted too much time on exposition with all the different cameras and characters and backstory. What your’e left with is one totally rushed act where suddenly all the characters know exactly what they’re dealing with, why they’re dealing with it, and how they can solve the mystery. I couldn’t stop laughing during the premiere episode when the show returned from commercial break and almost immediately onto f the characters knew exactly how to defeat the aforementioned blood-hungry ghost spectre thing, then enacted a plan that took about forty seconds to complete and then he simply kicked the thing off the boat into the river as if to say, “Welp, solved that riddle!” Uh…
The same thing happened in the second hour. With time running out, miraculously the main character (1) recognizes and defines the entity with with they’re dealing, (2) determines what it “wants” from them, and (3) enacts another plan that leads to a rushed, happy ending. It was so inauthentic and unbelievable. “This must be the ghost! This must be what it wants! Let’s do this!” Done. Roll credits. See you next week when the gang rips the mask of the zombie and it turns out to be the creepy Blackwater guy with all the guns. Damned meddling kids!
Speaking of which, there isn’t one skeptic on this entire show? Where’s the guy who doesn’t believe what’s happening all around them? That a weird dragonfly carrying the spirit and voice of a supposedly dead guy can crawl into the mouth of a young child and possess her. Or that ghosts can grab you and drown you in one foot of water. Or that a smoke monster can rip your limbs off and drink your blood. Or that the blonde girl with the massive cans won’t cop to sleeping with the missing, supposedly dead guy. Why is everyone immediately and wholly invested in what’s going on, as if it’s as plausible as anything else that might happen on a boat navigating the Amazon. And why do these shows keep hiring actors whose accents waver whenever they’re forced to show emotion? Do you have any idea how distracting that is!?
Will I tune in next week? That depends on whether or not my roommates force me to. Sure I have a television in my room, but it’s decidedly less fun watching MBL Network alone in bed than it is joking about how bad a network television show is with my friends. Plus, there’s no one to tell me to shut up when I make lewd sexual remarks about all the female cast members. One thing’s for certain, it’s not as terrible as Work It so I’m not obligate it to watch it. And in some regards, that’s to the show’s detriment. I’ll watch good shows (American Horror Story), and I’ll watch horrible shows (Work It), but I won’t watch the ones that fall in between. Which is a shame, because that’s what most television shows are now: middling crap.
Ben Frost – We Don’t Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors [MP3]
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