Season finale review: ‘The River’ – ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’

A quick review of “The River” season – and quite probably series – finale coming up just as soon as I get back to my sandwich…

Because “The River” was created a guy who had never worked in TV, using a format that had been very successful in movies, and with a seemingly limited premise, I wondered after seeing the pilot whether it could really work as a TV show. And to my pleasant surprise, it did. Not every episode was great, but the show managed to plausibly construct a variety of stand-alone stories that didn’t seem like they didn’t belong, or like they were less interesting than the larger mystery of what happened to Emmet. And rather than push their luck by dragging the Emmet search out at least into a hypothetical second season, the producers brought him back to life at the end of last week’s episode, and with the finale constructed an entirely new reason for the crew to spend many, many seasons on the Boiuna.

Unfortunately, the ratings haven’t been good, and it’s hard to see ABC trying again next season. But though “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” ended on a cliffhanger, it didn’t leave me feeling frustrated that I wasn’t likely to see where the story went next. Getting back to the show’s Oren Peli roots, the episode felt like the end of a movie that’s teasing what the next film in the franchise will be about, but that leaves you feeling like you got a complete experience in the one you just watched.

Lincoln’s resurrection and demonic possession not only upped the supernatural ante(*), but actually gave Joe Anderson something he could play for the first time all season. It’s been hard to tell whether the problem with Lincoln was the writing or the acting; seeing Anderson enjoy himself as Dark Lincoln suggested the former more than the latter (though it’s entirely possible another actor would have made regular Lincoln seem much less petulant). Were the show likely to continue, I’d have preferred if Lincoln stayed either dead or evil, but as it is, we got a fun – if very over-the-top by design – exorcism sequence, as well as a set-up for potential future misadventures in the jungle.

(*) Though I wondered why the other crew members were that astonished by the idea of someone returning from the dead, since that’s essentially what happened with Jonas. After all, he’d been hanging from that tree for months before they found him and brought him back to life.

I wish that the miniseries model was still viable on network TV. “The River” came on, told 8 hours worth of story over 7 weeks, was satisfying, and went off-stage before it wore out its welcome. Had it been a success, ABC could have brought it back again next spring under similar circumstances, and had it failed like it did, no harm, no foul.

But I thought the found-footage format actually worked very well given the budget, scheduling and content constraints of doing horror for television, I liked several performances a lot (particularly Eloise Mumford, Thomas Kretschmann and Bruce Greenwood), and I generally had a good time watching a show in a genre that’s not my favorite. And ABC aired it all, so I don’t feel left out, even though there’s more story to tell. I can live with that.

What did everybody else think?