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Premiering Tuesday night with back-to-back episodes beginning at 9 p.m., The River centers on Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who stars in a real-life television adventure series and suddenly goes missing in the Amazon, prompting his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson), his mother Tess (Leslie Hope) and a camera crew to go search for him.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s chief television critic Tim Goodman commended the midseason entry, concluding, “Finally, a successor to Lost with potential.” But Goodman had some reservation with the season-long mystery being able to sustain itself over the course of a season. “Quick camera cuts, people in peril, freaky and scary happenings — what’s not to like? Put them together, and you have a series that cobbles together a pretty strong rooting interest. We all need a show like this on the small screen again. But is there really a weekly series here?,” he asks.
The Los Angeles Times’ Robert Lloyd ventured to say that the adventure drama “in its early hours doesn’t ask to be taken more seriously than as the long-form B-movie it is,” concentrating “more on the buildup than the payoff, the fear more than the fright.” Nevertheless, The River “seems poised to offer a series of discrete encounters with the otherworldly, written with a copy of The Big Book of Amazonian Folk Tales open nearby, as it goes along its long-arc way,” Lloyd writes.
The New York Times‘ Mike Hale wrote that the way The River was shot — “grainy video, jumpy editing and action filmed so darkly” — is the is similar to the found-footage films before it. He adds: “Through the two episodes being shown on Tuesday night, the mixture of Lost storytelling and Paranormal style is neither intriguing nor particularly scary, and it doesn’t help that there’s hardly a glimmer of humor.”
Meanwhile, New York Magazine‘s Matt Zoller Seitz wasn’t too forgiving of the horror drama, saying that “it’s what the show doesn’t do with” the format of the show that “may prove a dealbreaker.” Shot in a mockumentary style, Seitz notes that the the format “feels more gimmicky than revelatory,” saying that instead of showing viewers “things that you wouldn’t normally see,” what appears “onscreen looks like a stylistically tricked-out Lost,” an observation other reviewers also emphasized.
San Francisco Chronicle‘s David Wiegand remained lukewarm on the show, pointing out the visual logic issues that arise: “The concept seems to be that, since the expedition is being filmed, much of the action can be captured in herky-jerky, Blair Witch-y style, which, of course, makes things even scarier because we never get a clear picture of what’s wreaking havoc. But at other times, we get aerial shots and other camera angles that couldn’t have been shot by the search team’s photographer.” He noted that if viewers are honing in on aspects like he just described, “The River isn’t really holding your interest very effectivey.”
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