Tuesday, 7 February 2012


What is it? Give me the set up. Dr Emmett Cole is a famous TV explorer, known for his documentaries adventuring into the unknown. Six months ago on a trip up the Amazon river, he disappeared. No one knows what happened to him, and a figure loved by millions of viewers simply vanished. Now suddenly, his emergency beacon emits a signal, alerting family and colleagues back home. Determined to find him - or at least what happened to him - his son Lincoln,spurred on by his mother Tess, board a vessel to find his old boat. To fund the dangerous and ambitious rescue mission, they also agree to have their voyage filmed by a camera crew to be made into its own documentary. AND THEN REALLY HORRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN IN THE RAINFOREST.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? Yes, in fact. If you're going to have a TV show based in the horror genre, then you need the big guns behind you to make it effective. And The River comes from director Oren Peli, the guy who brought us Paranormal Activity in 2009 (a terrifying experience which made me sleep with the light on for a few days, in perpetual dread I was about to be pulled out of bed and dragged down the hallway by some demonic creature with hooves). The two projects share the same found footage/shaky camera style and a family being tormented by a supernatural entity - although this time we're deep in the rainforest on a foreboding, twisting river so escape options are fairly grim. Also at the helm is Michael R. Perry who wrote Paranormal Activity 2 and has had his (skeletal, probably) fingers in many spooky pies: Eerie Indiana, American Gothic and The Dead Zone to name a few.

L-R: Dr Emmett Cole (Bruce Greenwood), Lincoln Cole (Joe Anderson), Tess Cole (Leslie Hope), Jahel Valenzuela (Paulina Gaitan), Emilio Valenzuela (Daniel Zacapa), Lena Landry (Eloise Mumford), Sammy (Jeff Galfer), Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne), Captain Kurt Bryndilson (Thomas Kretschmann), A.J. Poulain (Shaun Parkes)
Who's in it? Should I care? Not anybody I've ever heard of, but then I don't live in the television. Bruce Greenwood has been in a tonne of films that I've never watched but maybe you have: 2009's Star Trek, I, Robot, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Super 8. That seems to be the case for most of the cast, who have a rich varied CV in other shows and films, but this may be their biggest breakout yet if The River is a hit for ABC (though 24 nerds will know Leslie Hope as Teri Bauer, wife of Jack). There's quite a range of nationalities included as well: two Brit actors, a German, and a Mexican!

Pilot me. TV nature expert and personality Dr Emmett Cole (kind of a Bruce Parry/Steve Irwin mash) goes on his next mission up the Amazon river to film his new documentary, and goes missing. After a search proves fruitless he is pronounced dead and his family - wife Tess and son Lincoln - and friends hold a memorial service for him and try to move on. Fast forward six months later, and suddenly Dr Cole's emergency beacon starts giving off a signal deep in the Amazon jungle. Desperate to believe he is still alive, Tess joins with Dr Cole's old film crew to set up a mission to find him. To fund this they agree to turn the whole thing into a documentary and Tess persuades Lincoln to accompany them despite his reservations. Once on the river, they locate the beacon and Dr Cole's apparently abandoned boat, but their investigations soon turn from hopeful to terrifying, as unexplained noises and a presence starts taunting them.

And is it any good? Blog io9 have called it "the best TV pilot we've seen in years" and "appointment television" which is a grand feat indeed. Overall the response has been very positive, with promise of the scares actually being scary, and the twists and turns assured for a first time TV show. The characters are well developed and interesting (but you'll either love them or hate them), and there's an addictive quality to the show which will make you come back week after week to see what happens next. It's had a lot of comparison with Lost, but only time will tell if this veers into sci-fi territory or stays firmly planted in horror (I hope the latter). The only negatives so far have been to do with the show's tone, which is unsurprisingly smacking you over the head with exposition and doesn't expect you to think for yourself. This may not be a bad thing, as long as it's entertaining and knows what it's doing.

Anything else to intrigue me? This is not just a story about a missing man and his family's attempts to find him: Dr Cole just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His disappearance, and the family and crew's presence in the Amazon unveils a whole new horror, until now left unknown. There will be other mysteries, other dangers, and others will go missing. It's looking at the whole picture and a whole mythology - not just an ongoing snore-y story for 22 episodes that's dragged out to death. Let's just hope it doesn't get too silly. It's great to have more horror on the television - let's hope it's as great as American Horror Story.

Um...it's not Ghost Ship is it? NO. It's more like Bruce Parry's Amazon, when he goes on one of those really bad trips after the natives make him drink blood soup or whatever. With demons. And then he just disappears.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then? The River starts tonight with a double bill starting from 8pm on ABC in America (Wednesdays for us!).

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