A Few TV Thoughts

Lessons from Old TV: The River

Lesson #1: Theme and Genre

Television as a writing medium intrigues me. I love the potential to delve into a character’s life and explore in detail different themes and situations on an episode by episode basis. In order to teach myself about writing for television I completed a project during the 2011-2012 television season to further those efforts. I tried all of the pilots of any show that I could possibly be interested in. Let me tell you, it was a lot of television. There were eight of these shows that made my cut but didn’t score with the networks. In this series I’ll explore why I felt they had potential yet explain the pitfall that caused the show to stumble and die.

The River - Header

I’m not a horror movie fan. When I was in 7th grade I went through a phase for a couple of months and watched a friend’s horror fan collection. I grew up and didn’t look back. So while Cabin in the Woods looks intriguing it was a surprise I found myself watching the television series, The River. The idea of traveling down a river spotted with a malevolent magic is rather intriguing, hitting up the supernatural lover inside me. It was great how you weren’t certain at first if you were seeing things or if it was true magic. The writer in me liked how finding the father gave the show a destination and yet it could spin-off from there if the show was renewed.

Right away though, I found the characters sneer-worthy. I kept begging the doctor to please cut his hair and stop being so ugly. His arc was well-developed but the actor just didn’t fit the bill. I never could relate to his hang up with his dad – not that it wasn’t a valid reaction to the way he was raised – I just couldn’t feel it. The girl was good-looking and even better root-worthy but her character seemed motivated by conflicting ideas and with so many characters felt over worked and fake. I’d have loved to see more of her camera man father but as he was he became a shallow motivation and little else. The mother acted over wrought and so self-centered that you couldn’t root for her even when she was holding the group together or in danger herself.

The River - CastMy favorite characters were the engineer and his daughter due to their back-story. She only spoke Spanish and had a connection to the river and it’s magic; her father didn’t want a life for her like her mother’s, motivated by the aimless maneuverings of the river. The black camera man and producer were my second favorite characters, depthful yet light, motivated yet not overly angst filled. If all the characters were so developed the cast would have better fit the tone of the show. The hanging camera man started out with a great back-story, a villain you’d love to hate but whose villainy petered out too quickly.

The River - Hanging Tree

In spite of character problems I enjoyed much of the plot of several episodes. Obviously whoever wrote these episodes enjoys the horror genre and farmed their ideas from their favorite movies. This didn’t bother me as it was rather newer to me but for a writer to capture the market such used ideas needed a new spin and a thematic tie that would connect the ideas. Because the plot was developed so haphazardly at times the plot got too weird and at others not weird enough.

My two favorite episodes of The River were when they found the girl’s father on the ghost ship and the doll tree where service for another by the black cameraman broke the curse. As it is both the plot and characters were too hit or miss to capture an audience, especially the hard to please horror crowd.

ABC cancelled The River due to their haphazard theme and tired ideas in the well-known horror genre.
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