Bruce Springsteen’s The River turned 35 last month. To complement the gigantic forthcoming anniversary box set, HBO announced it will air the one-hour behind-the-scenes documentary the box set contains on Nov. 27.
And so we come to it at last. The final episode of The River’s first, but hopefully not only, season. How this show has matured and deepened beyond its initial, gimmicky premise has been a beautiful, delicate thing to behold. Where other series with initially promising concepts like FlashForward, V, or Invasion, started strong, then quickly fell apart, The River has gone in the other direction. It started weak, but every episode since the pilot has shown marked improvement.
And you thought after last week The River was going to keep you hanging about the fate of Emmet Cole, right? Hanging like Jonas from a Boiuna vine. Well, didn’t you think wrong? “The Experiment” probably could have been the season ender, since it not only revealed Emmet’s fate but reunited him with Tess and Lincoln. And in spectacularly badass fashion, I might add. I mean, what’s more badass than a reality TV star holing himself up inside a makeshift chrysalis for six months only to emerge to blow away a zombie with a shotgun? Sitch, my main man, forget about the GTL shtick.
One of the things that most intrigued me about The River when it premiered was that ABC had only committed to an eight episode run. That meant executive producer Oren Peli, the found-footage wunderkind behind Paranormal Activity, was allowed to craft a tight, streamlined narrative that could remain faithful to its premise, without having to dilute and compromise it over 22 episodes, and resolve its mysteries without a glut of red herrings.
We know that all the best heroes of Lost knockoffs have daddy issues. But so do all the best heroines!
Four episodes in, and, I don’t know about you, but I might just let myself get swept away by The River. Last night’s episode, “A Better Man,” was another moody, character-driven ride. If last week’s installment was all about redemption via potential self-sacrifice, with über-producer Clark Quietly willing to give his life to the Morcegos in exchange for his crew’s safety, “A Better Man” was about what Quietly and his ilk would do if an outsider needed to be sacrificed to restore the Amazonian balance—and save their own hides.
So we come to it. The true test of a new high-concept series’ mettle. The second week. This can be a make-or-break moment for a new show. Terra Nova had a pretty decent, expansive, dare-I-say “cinematic” pilot. But after episode 2, with the Shannon family’s toddler in peril because of CGI pterodactyls, it was clear that show had no interest in pushing televisual boundaries, but was content to be a tepid “family hour” of teen romance and feel-good parent-child bonding filtered through the seen-‘em-all clichés of cop, doctor, and military procedurals. Talk about a dinosaur!
“Who would Fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after death, The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of.” –Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1
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