'The River': Secrets and Allusions

Hopefully, the found footage gimmick will give way after the first episode, since it would be a shame to shoot all of the Amazon from one camera on some guy’s shoulder.

The River

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Leslie Hope, Joe Anderson, Paul Blackthorne, Eloise Mumford, Thomas Kretschmann, Paulina Gaitán
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
Air date: 2012-02-07

Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) is the beloved host of the popular nature TV show, The Undiscovered Country. For 22 years, he's been bringing the world to people’s living rooms, telling his rapt audience that “there’s magic out there.”

As The River opens, Emmet Cole is missing. He disappeared six months earlier on his latest expedition to the Amazon, which he took without his family or his usual crew. When Emmet is presumed dead, his son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), speaks at a memorial service, choking out just enough kind words not to sound petty. For years he was known as the reluctant blond kid on his dad’s show; now, he's a sallow and surly adult, and a scientist in his own right.

After the service, Tess (Leslie Hope) catches up with her son with an urgent message: Emmet’s beacon is sending a signal. He could be alive and she wants Lincoln to help her find him. Lincoln says no, glowering at the cameras capturing his mother’s every move. His dad's network is filming a new show about the search for Emmet, but it will only finance the rescue mission if both Tess and Lincoln participate.

This set-up seems like the beginning of a deeply troubling satire of our reality show culture. Instead, it explains why The River's pilot episode, airing 7 February, is shot in a “found footage” style. It's a style premised on keeping the monster off screen, and well known to co-creator Oren Peli and co-producer Steven Spielberg, but its limits are on display here. Hopefully, the gimmick will give way after the first episode, since it would be a shame to shoot all of the Amazon from one camera on some guy’s shoulder.

Apart from this trick, The River plainly evokes Lost. Each of the many mission members seems to know more than he or she will say, even if they're introduced as types we've seen before. Kurt (Thomas Kretschmann), a bodyguard with a European accent, travels with an arsenal of guns. Lena (Eloise Mumford) is the daughter of Emmet’s cameraman -- also missing -- and may know why they were in the Amazon. The ship's mechanic, Emilio (Daniel Zacapa), brings along his daughter, Jahel (Paulina Gaitán): early on, we learn she has “ghost friends.” The group appears calculated to provide the varied background stories and agendas to sustain a slowly unfolding serialized show.

Except that the producers of The River say they are not making a show like Lost, but rather, a procedural, à la The X-Files. The searchers here aren't (yet) so odd as Mulder, and their quest for Emmet lacks the abject eeriness of his search for Samantha. But they do use the word “magic” dozens of times in the first episode, which may or may not be a sign of The River's direction.

It's understandable that its producers resist the "serialized" label. Since Lost debuted, there have been countless efforts to recapture its unusual blend of complex relationships and supernatural obfuscations. All have failed, with only Heroes lasting more than a couple of seasons before spectacularly imploding. So, even as Once Upon a Time looks like it might have a shot at longer life, the similarly themed Grimm, explicitly drapes itself in procedural clothing.

We all know that The River can't be sustained as a monster-of-the-week operation. The novelty of that played out halfway through the pilot. And so we hope that it embraces its inner Lost and heads right on in to the heart of darkness.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.