Winter TV First Impression: ABC's The River Keeps the Paranormal Activity Flowing

The broadcast and major cable networks have nearly two dozen brand-new shows (hopefully) heating up primetime this winter. To help you sort through it all, TVLine is presenting a few First Impressions. Next on our list is.…

THE SHOW | ABC’s The River (Tuesdays at 9/8c, premiering Feb. 7 with back-to-back episodes)

THE COMPETITION | NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), New Girl and Raising Hope/Breaking In (Fox), The Biggest Loser (NBC) and Ringer (The CW)

THE CAST | Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), Leslie Hope (24), Paul Blackthorne (Lipstick Jungle), Joe Anderson (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), Eloise Mumford (Lone Star) and others

Save the Dates: February Premieres and Finales!

THE SET-UP | Created by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) and Michael R. Perry (Paranormal Activity 2), this eight-part chiller revolves around a crew of family, friends and other “interested” parties who brave uncharted reaches of the Amazon River in the name of finding Dr. Emmet Cole (Greenwood), a wildlife expert and TV personality who went missing six months prior during an expedition, but whose emergency beacon has suddenly been activated. Hope and Anderson play Cole’s wife and son, Blackthorne the producer of his TV docuseries, and Mumford the daughter of a cameraman who also vanished. Others on board include Shaun Parkes (Strike Back) as a cameraman documenting the search, Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong) as a vaguely defined security expert, and Daniel Zacapa (Resurrection Blvd.) and newcomer Paulina Gaitán as the boat mechanic and his daughter.

More Winter TV First Impressions: NBC’s The Firm,
Showtime’s House of Lies, NBC’s Smash, Fox’s Alcatraz

THE PROS | The River wants to scare you — more specifically, to unsettle you — and make no mistake, it will. If the promos have you thinking there is just one “thing” preying on the explorers during their journey, you’d be very wrong. Rather, each stop along the way — including an ancient graveyard guarded by super-creepy children’s dolls — seems to boast its own sort of bogeyman or malevolent watchman. Keeping tensions high are the close quarters of the boat scenes, the fuzzy night-vision footage from the vessel’s array of all-seeing cameras, and the show’s tendency to have things get very, very, very quiet… verrryquiet… and then SUDDENLY! get very LOUD! and SCREAMY! Greenwood appears regularly via flashbacks and discovered videotapes. Fun fact: Gaitán didn’t speak a lick of English when she took the role and delivers her dialogue almost exclusively in Spanish, which isn’t very helpful when her character is trying to alert the others to freaky stuff about which she seems especially attuned. Episode 3 features an inspired twist that has the crew flying blind, so to speak, and will have you on the edge of your seat. Do characters die every week? No, but only because the poor things don’t get off that easy. If this sort of fare — served up by the creator/director of Paranormal Activity himself — is your cup of tea (as it is mine), fire up your biggest flat screen, pump up the Dolby, turn off all the lights and enjoy the wild ride.

THE CONS | The River is extremely plot-driven, so even several episodes in, I can barely tell you who so-and-so is beyond the four leads, especially the brooding “security” type who tends to whisper-mumble his lines — and since at times we’re supposed to be wary of one person’s agenda or another’s, that can be problematic. The stretches between thrills ‘n’ chills can feel repetitive, consisting largely of “We must got back!”/”But no, there’s a new sign Emmet’s alive — ignore the latest crazy [bleep] that almost killed us all and forge on!” The show doesn’t routinely require huge leaps of logic (e.g. unlabeled tapes of Cole’s aren’t magically sifted through for pertinent data), but you may start wondering about the forever-filming cameraman’s battery charges and such. Though most of the weekly twists are cool (e.g. someone has a curious birthmark), there’s one soapy reveal that will make you audibly groan. The aforementioned quiet/LOUD! thing can get annoying in that you’ll be frantically toggling between the up/down volume buttons on your remote.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | The best thing The River has going for it, outside of its well-utilized Paranormal pedigree, is its freshman season’s eight-episode run, so for the time being there isn’t much concern about whether this journey has legs. It is unlike anything on all of TV right now — this isn’t family-friendly Terra Nova, folks — so it will be interesting to see how many viewers it scares up and then doesn’t scare away.

Watch a video preview for The River, then vote in our poll below.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Jon says:

    Since it’s only 8-episodes long, I’ll give it a shot.

  2. Justin says:

    Disappointed it’s only eight episodes. But the absolute best thing you said was that it’s not family friendly Terra Nova. Anything opposite of that show is a sure fire way to get me to watch.

    • joseph says:

      I agree with Justin. Terra Nova, while high-concept, is a miserable failure. Like The Event and FlashForward. With The River only being 8 episodes long, hopefully they can tell their story in a captivating manner.

  3. DL says:

    Wow, I didn’t know Paul Blackthorne was in this! I’ve been a big fan of his ever since he played my favorite Chicagoan wizard Harry Dresden. One more reason for me to tune in to The River. :)

  4. Bailey says:

    I saw a screening of the first two episodes in NYC two weeks ago (and blogged it, in my name link, if anyone’s interested), and I thought it was fantastic. It’s better than most shows on cable right now, and I think they’ll be able to churn out a lot of plot and scares in the short run. I’m surprised you say it was hard to keep track of the cast – it’s such a small ensemble that I thought it was fine. Maybe you needed some kind of con, though – this show is so great that it’s hard to find one.
    And this is coming from someone who hates being scared and refuses to see Paranormal Activity. This show is really great. It’s scary enough to scare you, but not so over the top that it’ll really scare people away. I bet it’ll be one of the next big things.

    • cK says:

      @ Bailey – I couldn’t agree with you more on every point you made. We’re now 3 episodes into the 8th one and what I love about The River is each episode is just as thrill seeking as the one(s) before it. My favorite character is AJ (Cameraman); seems like he gets smacked around for something that he’s said or done or didn’t do (pilot episode when Lincoln needed him to put down the Camera and help him with Lena’s injury).
      I don’t get too excited about TV shows that often but I can’t wait till Tuesday evenings to watch The River. I had my DVR set to record the series; so far I have seen each episode 3 times; 1st time I watched the episodes when they aired, 2nd time I played it for a friend (who doesn’t watch TV at ALL but loves this show!), and 3rd time watched it so another friend could catch up with us so the three of us can start watching the episodes together and be up to date for the next episode on the 28th.

  5. Mico says:

    Can’t wait!

  6. Justin says:

    Is this a miniseries? People keep talking about this eight episode thing, but I was under the impression it was supposed to be a series. Is eight episodes just the first season? Provided it does well, ABC plans on on turning this into a full fledged series? Correct?

  7. Brian says:

    I hated Paranormal Activity… I’ll give it 1 episode…

  8. Brett says:

    Please tell me that Joe Anderson busts out into Beatles song mid-show. Then I would DEFINITELY watch this.

  9. bri says:

    Only eight episodes? Not really enough to get me interested. It’s over almost before it’s begun.

  10. ggny says:

    not liking the cast so no thanks

  11. RJ says:

    I watched the two hour premiere online, and it was a lot slower than I thought. I won’t be watching anymore.

  12. Sam says:

    Now that I know it’s only 8 episodes I’ll definitely (try to) give it a shot. As much as I love horror, it just doesn’t really appeal to me and the cast doesn’t look too promising, however this could be a fun, short thrill ride, and I respect them not dragging it along for 13, let alone 22 episodes!

  13. jesse says:

    I watched the pilot on line and will definitely keep tuning in. I thought it was great. Very different for tv, which is a plus for me. I’ve given up on procedurals, and only watch a handful of comedies, but this one is creepy fun.

  14. Think it’s funny that people complain about the 8 episode run, considering that if it were longer they would likely complain that it’s an implausible premise (and how long can they keep it up). It works in the UK – have a little faith, people!

  15. fernando says:

    I can’t wait to watch, it looks good and its different and I might need something to replace Ringer with since its getting lamer each week and most likey CW might pass on it.

  16. Bad Breaker says:

    Under “competition” you failed to mention the second hour will be up against Justified and Southland…two very good shows.

  17. Day says:

    I love me some Paul Blackthorne (as above, since he was Harry Dresden), but I don’t think he’s quite enough of a draw for this.

  18. Annie says:

    I have yet to be disappointed by anything Bruce Greenwood signs on to. I’ll be watching.

  19. I'm not giving my name to a machine says:

    This sucks. Chuck Norris would destroy the cast and crew. He was also the “ghost” in paranormal activity.

  20. Andrea says:

    Heard really good things from a fellow Paranormal Activity (PA) fan, but was left wanting after the first episode. Plot holes like crazy! My husband and I were looking at each other like “are they kidding right now?”.
    Its hard to know the financial situation of this show right now and thus the production value given the state of the economy, but you have to think Hollywood is doing better than middle America. All the more reason why its so hard to believe the production value of this show is wasted on the predictable attributes of PA and less on story line and minor (yet major and respect building) factual information that more savvy viewers will pick up on and be turned off by (i.e.; Spanish accents in the Amazon should reflect the socio-economic backgrounds that the characters are meant to come from, geographical errors, predictable dialogue.. and that’s just the beginning).
    Its truly hard to watch this show without any eye-rolling. In fact, we’ve made watching the episodes we can bear into a game, not unlike the cajoling of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Crack a beer and let the insults fly. It might not be the ratings ABC expected, but ratings are ratings all the same.

  21. Cat says:

    I can’t believe this is only 8 episodes. It is sooooooooo good and has us really into it. So sad it’s about over.