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ABC's "The River" is a surprisingly solid, scary new hour-long drama

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ABC's "The River" is a surprisingly solid, scary new hour-long drama

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Take ABC's long-running hit "Lost" with its elaborate back story and mythology. Now fold that in with the found-footage gimmick which made "The Blair Witch Project" and those "Paranormal Activity" films so successful. Then drop those two elements into Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

What would you wind up with? "The River," a surprisingly solid & scary new hour-long horror series from ABC Studios, which debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET / PT with two back-to-back episodes.

Copyright American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved

The premise of "The River" is quickly sketched out in this show's pilot.  Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) - the host of the long-running nature documentary series, "The Undiscovered Country" - has gone missing while filming in the Amazon. After six months of combing the jungle with no results, it's assumed that that this world-famous adventurer is now dead. So the search is called off. Only to then Emmet's GPS locator starts sending out a distress signal.

Believing that her long-estranged husband is still alive, Cole's wife, Tess (Leslie Hope) mounts a rescue mission. Which is underwritten by a reality television production company which is represented by Clark Quietly (Paul Blackthorne), who used to be the main producer of "The Undiscovered Country" until he and Emmet had a falling out a few years back.

(L to R) Joe Anderson as Lincoln Cole, Leslie Hope as Tess Cole and Paul
Blackthorne as Clark Quietly aboard the Magus. Photo by Mario Perez.
Copyright American  Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

Clark & Tess recruit a camera crew and then persuade Cole's son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson) - who's harboring some pretty strong Daddy abandonment issues - to come along. Rounding out the crew is a father-and-daughter team of engineers as well as Lena (Eloise Mumford), Lincoln's childhood friend who knows a whole lot more about what Emmet has been up to these past few years than Lincoln & Tess do. Then - armed with all sorts of state-of-the-art camera equipment - this would-be group of rescuers sails up a previously unexplored tributary of the Amazon.

Eventually they find Emmet's ship, the Magus. But Cole is nowhere to be found on this vine-covered, abandoned boat. There are - however - a secret cache of video tapes which suggests that this TV host was dabbling in some pretty powerful magic before he then disappeared into the jungle. And Lena, Lincoln, Tess and Clark now use the clues that they find on these tapes as a way to help guide them in their search for Emmet.

Bruce Greenwood as Emmet Cole in "The
River." Photo by Bob D'Amico. Copyright
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved

That's the over arching back story for "The River." But this would-be team of rescuers immediately find themselves in need of rescue as - in Hour No. 1 - they come up against a bloodsucking ghost known as the corpo seco. While in Hour No. 2, Tess is pursued by a long-dead child who now wants to make Lincoln's mother her own.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, "The River" has a great look and some terrific production values. Of course, the real question here is can this show's producers (i.e Michael Green and Zack Estrin) actually come up with enough stories & compelling characters to turn "The River" into a "Lost" -sized success? Given that ABC has - to date, anyway -- only ordered up 8 episodes of this new hour-long horror drama ... Well, that's not exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence.

Leslie Hope as Tess Cole finds herself the target of vengeful jungle spirits in
Episode No. 2 of "The River." Photo by Mario Perez. Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved

But that said, given the genuinely creepy moments that I experienced while watching the first two episodes of "The River" (Just wait 'til you see what happens when Lincoln & Co. reach those doll-covered trees in Hour No. 2), I'll definitely be looking in again on this new ABC Studios production again. If only to see if the producers actually do deliver on their promise to bring "The River" 's overall storyline to a semi-satisfying close by the end of Hour No. 8 while still leaving the door open for further adventures up the Amazon should this show get renewed for the 2012 - 2013 season.

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  • The found-footage gimmick is tired, old and lazy. And it is often distracting. It's handled fairly well on "The River" but for this series to succeed; it will need to back off on the visual effects and camera gimmickry to let the intriguing story shine through. I believe ABC's "The River" has a lot of potential but the formulaic standards built around LOST isn't what viewers want/need... They just want a compelling story.

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