Wednesday, February 8, 2012

'The River' debuts solidly for ABC

It wasn’t exactly a splash, but ABC’s supernatural thriller ‘The River’ debuted solidly Tuesday night, giving the network its best numbers in that time slot in 11 weeks.

The debut of the documentary-style drama earned 8.2 million viewers in its first hour and 6.8 million in the second. Those numbers are 2.2 million viewers higher than in the same time period a year ago and 60 percent higher in individuals ages 18 to 49.

That’s fairly good news for ABC, which has seen something of a creative resurgence this year with ‘Once Upon a Time’ and the surprisingly solidly performing ‘Last Man Standing.’

‘The River’ follows the Cole family, a kind of ‘Crocodile Hunter’ group that is led by Bruce Greenwood as the father, Leslie Hope as the mother and Joe Anderson as the misunderstood adult sun. Greenwood’s character is missing and feared dead at the beginning of the show. His wife and son go looking for him in the Amazon when his boat is found – and they let documentary cameras follow them if they will foot the expedition. The camera crew, a few family friends, and other personnel make up the rest of the group.

The show’s premise isn’t exactly new – and the scares in the first hour were pretty tepid. It actually reminded me of an old second season episode of ‘Seaquest’ (that was the worst season for those who are paying attention) when a malevolent spirit is freed and then re-imprisoned in a magic box.

Things definitely picked up in the second hour, though, when a creepy doll tree and evil drowning child spirit are introduced. There were some genuine chills generated – and I don’t think it’s because I’ve always thought dolls were creepy.

The acting in ‘The River’ is solid if unspectacular – although Greenwood (who is mostly shown in flashback) lends weight to the acting corps. The storyline has been done before, but they seem to be setting up a variety of mysteries revolving around the various members of the expedition.

Anderson, who until now I’ve only known as the guy who has his legs eaten away in ‘The Ruins,’ is the heart of the show and he manages to carry the storyline without getting bogged down in it. In other words, if you think too hard about what is going on you’re not going to enjoy the experience.

There are only six episodes left in the show’s premiere season and – if ratings hold up – I would imagine that ABC will renew it. I have no idea how expensive it is to produce, though, so that might change.

Not everything is rosy about the show, though. It’s biggest drawback is actually a product of the show’s setup. It’s the cameras within a show concept. Quite frankly, that little filming device got old right after ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and before ‘Diary of the Dead,’ ‘Cloverfield,’ all three of those crap ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies and the really dreadful ‘Quarantine.’

I understand it would be jarring in the first season, but for the second season they should just drop the cameras and embrace the kookiness of their plot lines. This isn’t a show you can take too seriously and it isn’t a show that’s going to win any awards.

What it is seems to be a nice change of pace from the procedural doldrums that mire the other networks.

In other words, go ahead and take a trip down ‘The River.’ You might like it.

‘The River’ airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on ABC.


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