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TV Series Review

"There's magic out there!"

That was Dr. Emmet Cole's signature signoff for his popular nature show, The Undiscovered Country. Every week, Emmet—a cross between the late Marlin Perkins and Steve Irwin—would introduce viewers to the wonders of nature, taking his lovely wife Tess and son Lincoln along for the ride.

But somewhere along the way something went wrong: Lincoln, who never seemed to see his father outside the light of the cameras, begins to resent him. Emmet and Tess begin to grow apart. And then Emmet—without his wife, son or regular television crew in tow—decides to go to the Amazon Basin one last time … for reasons unknown.

He disappears out there in the jungle. Six months later, the pop naturalist is declared legally dead, and Lincoln leads a memorial service in his honor. But then, in a bar afterwards, Tess gives her son some remarkable news: Emmet's emergency beacon has suddenly beeped back on, and Tess hopes—desperately, perhaps—that her husband might still be alive.

Emmet's old TV network is willing to foot the bill for a rescue operation—if it can document every step with a battery of cameras. There's one condition: Lincoln has to come along.

At first, Lincoln's incredulous. "They know Dad and I hated each other," he says.

"That's why we wanted you," says Clark, Emmet's longtime producer.

And so begins ABC's creepy, cheesy mash-up of  Lost and Paranormal Activity.

The show, at least in its early stages, feels surprisingly episodic: In each outing, this intrepid band of explorers—including Lena, daughter of Emmet's longtime cameraman (also missing); Emilio, engineer for Emmet's ship The Magus; his pretty but freaked-out daughter, Jahel; mysterious mercenary Kurt; and A.J., the crew's surviving cameraman (another was unceremoniously dispatched during the pilot)—must battle new, often supernatural dangers out there among the palm fronds and exotic spiders. From soul-infested pods to spooky spirits, they're all somehow caught on film by the crew's umpteen cameras, dutifully toted no matter what sort of bogeyman the explorers face.

The concept, filled with hints of primitive animism and flat-out hocus-pocus, will be inherently problematic for some viewers: It has all of Lost's weirdness without much of its metaphorical underpinnings. And there are other problems. The River can be an incredibly gruesome place, filled with desiccated corpses and bloody wounds and ooky creatures. Female characters crawl through the jungle wearing revealing tops, and no one seems to have any compulsion to watch their language. (S- and f-words are bleeped.)

Of course not everything is dank and gloomy aboard The Magus. In the midst of these weekly supernatural crises, the crew seems to grow ever closer. Folks begin to get a better idea of what's really important in life—and very often they wind up being better friends and family members because of it.

But even though there are some positives to be plumbed from The River's murky depths, mostly this show is about the murk. Emmet was right, it seems: There is magic out there. And it's out for blood.


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Episode Reviews

River: 2142012



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Joe Anderson as Lincoln Cole; Leslie Hope as Tess Cole; Eloise Mumford as Lena Landry; Paul Blackthorne as Clark Quietly; Thomas Kretschmann as Capt. Kurt Brynildson; Daniel Zacapa as Emilio Valenzuela; Shaun Parkes as Andreus Jude 'A.J.' Poulain; Paulina Gaitan as Jahel Valenzuela; Bruce Greenwood as Dr. Emmet Cole






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Paul Asay

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