The River entertains, despite cancellation

23:12, Nov 27 2013

I'm not sure how it happened, but a show that was cancelled over eighteen months ago has become one of my favourite shows of the year so far: horror series The River finished up its first, and only, season on TV2 last night - the show originally aired in the USA from February to March last year, and was officially cancelled all the way back in May 2012.

(Warning: spoilers from The River follow ... I mean, if we can still call them spoilers.)

I'm actually bitterly disappointed to be losing The River now. The show managed to entertain throughout its eight-episode run, even though it essentially threw a number of horror movie clichés (Demonic possession! Cannibals! Possessed dolls!) against the wall to see which ones stuck - and all of them based around the central conceit of Paranormal Activity; no surprise given that the show was created by Paranormal Activity director and writer Oren Peli.

Perhaps that is what killed the show in the end. The "found footage" genre - not even a genre as much as a poor stylistic choice - is extremely hit-and-miss, mostly a huge miss. There is a part of me that wonders how much better The River could have been had it been filmed like a traditional action-drama.

But it did well given the limits imposed on it by the style and form it adopted. The writing wasn't great, but it entertained, and a number of the storylines were unique and clever: the fourth episode, which involved a cameraman who got too close to the passing of a tribal elder, was a great episode of television, while last night's finale - complete with a writhing, impossibly contorting Lincoln possessed by the spirit of the Boiuna, and finishing with the spooky image of a transforming Amazon jungle that will never let the Magus leave - was a great way to end the series.

Sure, the show has its flaws. Aside from Bruce Greenwood, who played the enigmatic Dr Emmet Cole, and Shaun Parkes, who was criminally underused as cameraman AJ Poulain, the cast was light on decent performers: Leslie Hope and Joe Anderson, as Tess and Lincoln Cole, seemed hopelessly out of depth at times (though Anderson did some good work last night), while Paul Blackthorne and Thomas Kretschmann barely did enough to form the cliches of nosy cameraman and mysterious action-man that the scripts required.


Thankfully the cast were mostly only required to scream and run, so performances and characterization became of minimal importance. Still, it's never good when a reviewer can say that a show was good in spite of the cast.

I'm also pleased with how the show ended. The big problem with getting into ashow that has already been cancelled is that the final episodes will invariably deliver a cliffhanger ending - most cancelled shows don't get a chance to re-jig their ending, so the last episode they make usually sets up the next, ultimately unmade, episode.

And while the shifting Amazon river, with its banks of jungle moving back and forth to create a veritable maze for the Magus, would have been a nice challenge for the crew to overcome next, it's actually a nice way to end the show. The Cole family is together again; in finding Emmet, Lincoln and Tess did what they set out to do. Being eternally trapped by the Boiuna could be seen as the cost of how they did it, a karmic payback for the lengths they went to in order to save a loved one.

If only someone (ahem, Netflix) would save The River - because I would definitely watch more, given a chance.

Did you watch The River, either this year on TV2 or last year via the internet? What did you think?

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