The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: The River (ABC)

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

US TV

Review: The River (ABC) 1×1-1×2

The River

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

Found footage‘ is a storytelling method that’s become very popular over the last decade or so in horror movies, mainly thanks to the success of one particular film: The Blair Witch Project. Although you can trace FF’s roots back to Cannibal Holocaust in the 70s, it’s largely because of the worldwide success of the TBWP that the likes of REC, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Apollo 18, Diary of the Dead et al were given the green light over the last few years.

In essence, FF is simple – a found footage story is one that purports to be real TV or film footage recovered from cameras, usually after the people taking the footage have died, and what you’re watching is purely a documentary record of how they were haunted, hacked to death, eaten by zombies, attacked by monsters or whatever.

But despite the popularity of the genre at the movies, it’s somewhat surprising to discover that The River, ABC’s newest show, is only about the fourth TV show to ever exploit the style. It’s maybe not that surprising to discover, though, that it’s from Oren Peli, creator of Paranormal Activity, Michael R Perry, co-writer of Paranormal Activity 2, and Steven Spielberg (exec producer of Paranormal Activity).

The plot looks relatively simple at first: famed explorer and TV host Dr Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) has got lost up the Amazon, so his wife (Leslie Hope) and son (Joe Anderson) go looking for him. The only catch is that to get the funding for the trip, they have to agree to have the whole thing filmed by a documentary producer (Paul Blackthorne). And we get to watch what they filmed.

Suffice it to say that what they find isn’t just a slightly derivative, not very frightening combination of Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, it’s like American Horror Story. Maybe they should have called the show Amazon Horror Story, since that would at least have been more interesting than The River.

Here’s a trailer. It’s misleadingly exciting.

Continue reading “Review: The River (ABC) 1×1-1×2”

The River to appear in the UK on iTunes the day after it airs in the US

Here’s interesting. As of yet, no one in the UK has acquired The River, so it looks like ABC is trying to circumvent pirates and the traditional model of broadcast, all in one go:

LONDON, UK: 31st January 2012 – The much-anticipated new US thriller series “The River”, from Steven Spielberg, and Oren Peli, the creator of “Paranormal Activity”, is set to make its UK debut on iTunes (www.itunes.co.uk/tv/theriver) on 8th February, just 24 hours after its US broadcast on ABC. iTunes customers will be first in the UK to see this chilling drama series. A Season Pass of all eight episodes of the much-anticipated show will be available to pre-order from today, with episodes one and two launching on 8th February.

The River” is produced by ABC Studios (“Lost”, “Desperate Housewives”) and Amblin Films. It follows the story of world famous wildlife expert and TV personality Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood – “Star Trek”). After Cole goes missing deep in the Amazon, his family, friends and crew set out on a mysterious and deadly journey to find him. Led by his wife, Tess (Leslie Hope – “24”), and his estranged son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson – “The Twilight Saga”), and filmed documentary-style by Cole’s ex-producer, Carl (Paul Blackthorne – “Lipstick Jungle”), the rescue mission will take them deep into the unexplored reaches of the Amazon River. A place where nature is cruel, magic is real, and nothing is what it seems. As the journey continues, the show will take audiences along for a scary new mystery each week.

The River”, from Amblin’s Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Television’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, and showrunner/executive producer Michael Green ("Heroes," "Kings"), is also executive-produced by Oren Peli (creator of "Paranormal Activity"), Zack Estrin ("Prison Break"), Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity 1, 2 and 3") and Steven Schneider. Teleplay by Michael R. Perry and Michael Green, story by Oren Peli & Michael R. Perry and Michael Green. The series is produced by ABC Studios and Amblin Films, and distributed by Disney UK.

Executive producer Oren Peli said: “Right from the start, we’ve had a global audience in mind for “The River” – the show preys on universal human fears, and follows a journey to an exotic, remote setting. I’m excited to be debuting the show on iTunes.”

The River is available for pre-order from iTunes at www.itunes.co.uk/tv/theriver. Once downloaded, the show can be enjoyed at the viewer’s leisure, either at home via home computer or Apple TV, or on the move with iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. A full Season Pass is £9.99 (SD) or £12.99 (HD), and single episodes are £1.89 (SD) or £2.49 (HD).

It does actually look quite good, in a Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity kind of way.

US TV

Preview: Touch (Fox) 1×1

In the US: Mondays, 9/8c, Fox. Starts March 19th
In the UK: Acquired by Sky1

Firstly, can I just ask what BSkyB’s acquisition strategy is? If you have a new channel supposedly entirely devoted to US TV (Sky Atlantic), what is Sky1 doing acquiring this?

Anyway, that off my chest, let’s talk Touch. Remember Heroes, in which lots of people around the world discovered that they not only had superpowers but were interconnected in some way? Well, now we have a show from the creator of Heroes, Tim Kring, in which lots of people around the world don’t discover they have superpowers, but that they are still all interconnected in some way… and a kid with superpowers knows all about it.

Another great mental trek by US TV producers, then.

The slight difference in the set-up between Touch and Heroes is that there are really only three central characters – Kiefer Sutherland, a widower and former journalist who now takes blue collar jobs in order to pay for his son’s care; his son, who might be autistic, is at least mute, but who is the next step in human evolution, can see the future and can see how everything is interconnected; and British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, last seen in NBC’s dire Undercovers, as some kind of social worker who comes to discover that Kiefer’s son does indeed have superpowers.

But around the world, various lives are interlinked through the actions of Kiefer’s son, Kiefer, some cellphones and who knows what. Well, Danny Glover, in full loon mode, does.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Preview: Touch (Fox) 1×1”

The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 4

Third-episode verdict: Alcatraz (Fox)

In the US: Mondays, 9pm ET/PT, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Watch

Well, normally I hold out until episode three of a show in case it gets better, since usually you can expect some quality change in a show by that point.

Alcatraz, though, has enviable consistency. After a surprisingly dull first two set of episodes, episode three – its explicit ‘origins’ – proved to be amazingly identical to them in almost every way. The procedural element of the show was just a massive plod through gross serendipity crossed with colossal stupidity. We got absolutely no revelations about the central mystery, only more mystery that wasn’t actually that interesting. Parminder Nagra was still stuck in a hospital bed, not saying anything. And the female lead still looked about 16. In fact, she seems to be getting younger.

Beyond Sam Neill and the vague possibility that there’s something good hidden deep inside this mystery, there are no reasons to watch this show. So I shalln’t.

Carusometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: Should stagger on until the end of the season at least. Could possibly even get a second season. But it doesn’t deserve to.