San Diego Comic-Con — The River Panel (Updated 7 Feb, 2012)

SDCC -- The River panel

February 7, 2012: The River airs tonight on ABC at 9/8 Central. It is showing in a two hour block, and the sneak peek we got at Con was only an hour, so we are tuning in tonight to see what was added (extra footage inserted within the episode we saw? The second episode smooshed onto the end of the first to create a two hour premiere?). Check back here at With An Accent in a few days for more commentary!

Considering the fact that this panel screened the pilot episode of The River and I will be going into some detail on the episode itself, there are spoilers ahead. You might want to back-button now if you’re spoilerphobic!

SDCC -- The River panelCome late afternoon on Friday of Con, I found myself in the panel for ABC’s upcoming midseason pilot The River, which was held in one of the much smaller rooms, yet filled to near-capacity with those curious about this new offering from Oren Peli (director/creator of the Paranormal Activity franchise). As soon as everyone was settled in their seats, they wasted no time in dimming the lights and putting the pilot episode playing for us.

What I had known going in was very little, but I had heard that supposedly most of the questions raised in the first episode were also answered in the first episode. The idea was that while this show may be aiming for the LOST audience share, what it wasn’t aiming for was the frustration over constant mysteries popping up left and right and not being answered in a timely enough fashion. Now that I’ve actually seen the pilot, I can confirm that this was mostly true; many of the immediate “what the hell is going on here?!” sort of questions were answered by the end of the episode, at least on the surface.

The biggest question left unanswered, the one which will drive the rest of the series, is also the same that has been posed in the viral marketing campaign for the show: Where is Emmet Cole?

Emmet Cole is one of the main characters of The River, even if he’s been missing for six months by the time we join the story. He is a world-renowned explorer and television personality whose series “The Undiscovered Country” has enjoyed a run of 22 years — yes, 22! His favorite catch-phrase, which we hear no less than five or six times, is “There’s magic out there!”. In the exposition-heavy first ten minutes of the episode, we learn many things in succession:

  • Emmet and his wife, Tess (Leslie Hope), have raised their son on camera. Lincoln Cole (Joe Anderson) grew up right before America’s eyes, and at least half the draw of the show for their many fans seems to be their “perfect family”. (This reminded me of the Irwins, actually.)
  • On his most recent trip six months ago, Emmet set out down the Amazon without Tess or Lincoln (now in his mid to late twenties). He was never seen or heard from again (nor was the bare-bones crew he took with him), and is presumed dead.
  • In the time span immediately before we jump into the story, Tess has been informed that Emmet’s emergency beacon has been set off.
  • The sort of shady ex-producer of “The Undiscovered Country”, Clark (Paul Blackthorne), has offered Tess the funding to put together a search party for Emmet with the caveat that it is filmed for a show that would follow the rescue effort. This would mean that Lincoln, who is now in medical school and not too happy with the fact that daddy seemed to care more about the show than providing him with the stability he needed throughout childhood, would need to come along. Lincoln is resistant to this, but eventually agrees for his mother’s sake.

The whole scenario has its complications beyond just the family dynamics in play, and as soon as the Coles arrive down in the Amazon with their crew, we learn just how complicated. Lena (Eloise Mumford), a young woman whose father is the cameraman that has gone missing alongside Emmet (and who grew up with Lincoln, though behind the scenes of the show), has tagged along. It becomes obvious very early on that she knows more than she’s sharing with the rest of them. Clark’s still hanging around, being kind of gross. It’s very easy to see that the dollar signs in his eyes are more what’s driving him than the idea of rescuing Emmet. The head of security Kurt (Thomas Kretschmann) isn’t much better — he comes off as a man who knows the darker end of an alley. Emilio, the engineer for the boat that they are using for the search, has brought along his teenage daughter and mechanical wiz Jahel (Paulina Gaitan), who of course only speaks Portuguese. Jahel also has an eery connection to the supernatural, which comes in handy once the crew runs into things that can’t be explained. There’s also a couple of cameramen, who seem to be there mainly to get the crap scared out of them and drop their cameras on the floor a lot (still filming, of course).

I won’t go into too much more detail since I don’t want to completely ruin the episode for anyone, but suffice it to say that they find the beacon, and Emmet’s not there. They do eventually find his boat (pontoon? I have no idea what that style of boat is actually called), the Magnus, which is helpfully equipped with still-working cameras in every nook and cranny, thanks to “The Undiscovered Country”. Some stuff goes down. It doesn’t look fun. There’s Smokey 2.0. There’s magic out there, alright, and Emmet found it.

The River is very reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, in the sense that the cinematography is very similar once they find the Magnus and make use of the stationary cameras. Otherwise, our view of the action is through the hand-helds that the cameramen wield. It really works in this show, though a part of me has to wonder if it won’t get tedious down the line.

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