[In case you'veÂ Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]
Show: "The River" (ABC, midseason)
The Pitch: "Paranormal Activity" meets "Wild Kingdom" meets "Keep the River on Your Left"
Quick Response: "The River" isn't premiering until midseason, but ABC is sneaking the pilot at Comic-Con this week and it's going to get a ton of buzz, so I might as well have my gut reaction on the record ahead of time. It's my guess that people at Comic-Con are going to go nuts over "The River." It's 44 minutes of tense, visceral found-footage horror and its format and feel are pretty uncommon (if not nearly unprecedented), at least so far as I can think of, for TV. It's full of jump-in-your-seat moments and I think that watching "The River" in a big crowd of people who don't know what's coming next is probably the perfect way to experience it. It won't feel the same at home in your living room and -- this is the bigger concern -- Â it won't feel the same on a weekly basis. It can't, can it? CBS tried doing a slasher-film-per-week with "Harper's Island" and while that one-and-done dud produced occasional schlocky scares, it failed in its mission to sustain any kind of suspense over 13 weeks. "The River" packs a lot of frights into its pilot and I know why it intrigued ABC, but I finished the pilot wishing I could watch the next 44 minute installment, wrap up the story and be done. I didn't find myself thinking that these were characters I necessarily wanted to be with every week or that this aesthetic -- documentary-style, mixed film stocks, lots of shakiness, etc -- was going to be a rewarding one, especially once the directors become less gifted than Jaume Collet-Serra, the location settings become less distinctive and the folks in post-production realize how hard it is to make this mixture of formats pay dividends each and every week. But it's only partially my job to project forward. The rest is to admit that the sense of unease set in almost immediately on "The River" and it's mostly unrelenting. There are also very sturdy actors anchoring this drama, including Bruce Greenwood, Leslie Hope, Paul Blackthorne and Thomas Kretschmann, though my feeling was that this was largely a cast of actors and characters who would be first to die if this were a real horror film. In the female lead, I'm very pleased to welcome "Lone Star" veteran Eloise Mumford back to my TV, combining just the right amount of toughness, emotionalism and sexiness. I had a far bigger problem with the leading man, Joe Anderson, who is so badly hamstrung by his failed American accent that he makes the already tenuous and wooden dialogue -- "Science isn't a great big wonder anymore," his character stupidly observes early on. "There are no huge discoveries left." -- sound even worse. He could just have been uncomfortable in the pilot and he could improve, but he's a real stumbling block here.
Desire To Watch Again: There are enough mysteries introduced by the end of the pilot to string most viewers along. Me, I'm eager to keep up with this series for one reason: ABC is playing up the involvement of the suddenly TV-ubiquitous Steven Spielberg and "Paranormal Activity" creator Oren Peli, but I'm more intrigued by showrunner Michael Green, the man behind the all-too-quickly-canceled "Kings." Green gives me hope that in addition to the style that "The River" has aplenty, some substance might filter through eventually.
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