PREMIER REVIEW: The River

WRITTEN BY MAX

The River. Also, the boat, the broad and the tortured intellectual.

Sitka is a novel written by one of my favorite authors, Louis L’Amour.  L’Amour is a writer of western history but with mostly fictional characters.  In the Sitka novel, a gentleman (and I mean a gentleman in the sense that he is well to do, and an upright citizen) named Jean LaBarge travels to Alaska on multiple occasions for the purpose of selling wheat, and falls in love with a countess.  En route he has many battles with Arkady Zinnovy, the local Russian law.  While LaBarge escapes many times, he is pursued hotly by Zinnovy aboard his own patrol ship, the Lena.

I’ve read the story of Sitka many times.  L’Amour crafts a wily foe in Zinnovy, and while I always know that he will receive his comeuppance, when he bears down on LaBarge aboard his ship Lena, I can’t help but think L’Amour loved writing about the vessel.  He describes the Lena as almost a beacon in the night, a force to be reckoned with, but not evil.  He crafts his description with something akin to admiration at how resolute the ship seems to be.  Because of this, whenever I hear the name Lena, I associate it with something resolute, powerful and relentless.  When I searched what the name Lena means, I was pleased but not surprised that it means “light one.”  This is somewhat important, I promise.

I wanted to catch The River live, but work and play got in the way.  I streamed the two pilot episodes this weekend and I was pleasantly surprised.  While somewhat formulaic, in the sense that I figured out what the writers plan to do midway through the second episode, the show brought numerous surprises, not the least of which is a fake documentary style show a la Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project but without the nonstop shaky camera and nauseating cutaways.

The premise of the show is that Emmit Cole, played by the always perfectly psuedo-scumbag Bruce Who I Always Mistake For Tom Skerritt Greenwood, is like the Jim Fowler of The River world.  He goes on many adventures with his family and always ends his program each week with the phrase “There’s magic out there.”  Shortly into the pilot, we start to learn that maybe he means “there’s magic out there” more in the literal sense.  From here, we meet the rest of the cast: His wife Tess (Leslie Hope), his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), and his first mate’s daughter Lena, played like a resolute beacon of light by Eloise Mumford.

Cole has disappeared, and after six months his family believes he is gone, that is, until his emergency beacon goes off.  A reality show crew comprised of old videographers on his show seduce Tess and Lincoln to go hunting for him.  On the way, they are joined by other crewmen, and of course, Lena.

The rest of the plot is very Supernatural.  Each week they are going to be confronted with a new demon or creature or spirit and together they will have to use wit and wile to save not only themselves, but Cole, who is lost somewhere in the Amazon.  It’s a pretty standard plot device.  Hopefully show writers can keep the creative nature of the evil haunting the river at a maximum and avoid falling into too-predictable ruts, taking the show in circles down a dead end road, much like NBC’s Heroes during it’s brief run.

The part that hooked me, however, is Lena.  Throughout the first two episodes, viewers start to see she may know more than she is letting on.  Independent of her observations, we are treated to flashbacks of Cole and Lincoln when Lincoln was a child.  In one flashback, Cole tells a story about an old man in Hawaii who told him stories of death and life, and how they are the same thing.  The old man said that it was like a clock and that the old clock was getting tired.  Before long it would want someone to stop the pendulum, and while he told the stories, his old wife made a necklace.  When Cole was getting ready to leave, the man gave Cole the necklace and told him that a child would come into his life and he would know that the child was strong and would be able to stop the pendulum.  After Cole tells Lincoln this story, we see him award the boy with the necklace for being strong.

At the end of the second episode, we see Lena and Lincoln playing aboard Cole’s boat, the Magus.  (This is after Cole gave Lincoln the necklace.)  As the children come to rest looking over the railing, Cole notices a birthmark on the back of Lena’s head in the perfect shape of the necklace he had received from the old man.

After two episodes, we have a definite direction for the season, very conflicted but detailed characters, and enough suspense and questions to keep viewers coming back.  I give this show very high marks.  I’m intrigued by the Lena character.  I want to know how she is going to stop the pendulum of life and death.  I’m a sucker for mystery television programs showcasing the supernatural.  I have fond memories of watching Wild Kingdom with my mom and dad growing up.  So whether it is a combination of these, or something else less tangible, but either way, I found myself almost upset because I couldn’t watch the next episode.  That’s the point of television.

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~ by maxaverage on February 12, 2012.

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