Third-episode verdict: The River (ABC)

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, ABC
In the UK: Available on iTunes. Not yet acquired by a network

The River is a show I really want to like. It’s trying something relatively new for US TV – ‘found footage’. It’s a horror show on network TV. Like Southland, it has characters who swear but get bleeped out. It tries to build character and to create tension through direction and writing, rather than gore. It has some good British actors including Paul Blackthorne (The Gates, 24, The Dresden Files), able to keep their own accents and in the case of the latest episode, save the day while all the Americans are cowering under tables. There’s a German actor who also gets to be a German and to be very cool. While it is a serial show, there’s a different beastie to deal with every week. And it does have the occasional scary moment.

But that’s the problem I remarked on when I reviewed the first two episodes: the scary moments are only very occasional. For whatever reason – and it’s always tricky with horror to work out what the problem is when it’s not scaring – it’s just not putting the willies up me as I watch it. It may be that with only a few minutes to name the threat and why it should be threatening, each one having to be novel and ‘Amazonian’, there’s simply not enough time in an hour-long show to create the build up. It might be that the direction is too obvious, with threats that should be ‘corner of the eye’ experiences dwelt on by automatic cameras that shouldn’t be bothering. It may be that the structure of advertising-riddled TV episodes is such that it’s impossible to build sustained tension.

Whatever the reason, a horror show that doesn’t scare built around a mystery that is thin at best isn’t one isn’t something that’s really going to prove of interest to many people, I suspect. Oh, look at the ratings. I’m right.

It’s a shame that a show that should be so close to greatness has ultimately failed by being just a little tamer than it should be. But it is what it is – even Glen Morgan (The X-Files, Millennium, Final Destination) couldn’t write something truly frightening within its format. So I’m afraid I can’t recommend it. I might keep watching for a little bit, just to see if it gets any better, and I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

Carusometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will last a season


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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