'The River': Up the creek, with a paddle

"The River," will premiere with two back-to-back episodes "The River," will premiere with two back-to-back episodes on the ABC Television Network. From left in foreground, Paul Blackthorne, Joe Anderson and Eloise Mumford. Photo Credit: ABC

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REVIEW

DRAMA PREMIERE "The River"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday at 9 on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCH A good laugh

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) was a Saturday TV fixture for years -- an Animal Planet kind of small-screen star with tousled hair and bountiful enthusiasm for critters great and small. "There's magic out there!" was his favorite catchphrase.

And then . . . something terrible happened. No, he wasn't canceled; rather, he disappeared into the vast reaches of the Amazon jungle. What happened to the dear boy? That's what a TV network wants to find out, offering to pay for his search, on one condition. His wife, Tess (Leslie Hope), who will lead the search, and son, Lincoln (Joe Anderson), must consent to have their every move chronicled by a camera crew, led by Cole's smug ex-producer, Clark (Paul Blackthorne). But what terrifying horrors await them all in the jungle?

MY SAY The success of "Paranormal Activity" (1, 2 or 3 -- take your pick) pretty much ensured TV would get around to a handheld cinema verite drama with a supernatural twist one of these days. That day has arrived, but maybe it should have been prolonged. Cheerfully inept, "The River" is oblivious to the probability that more people will giggle than gasp during these 44 minutes -- it's hard to imagine what anyone would be afraid of.

"Lost," for example, had a smoke monster. "The River" has a monster that looks like a watermelon -- or maybe a deflated basketball (hard to tell which through the grainy footage). Plus, when an extended sequence involves a teddy bear, accompanied by lines like "That's my teddy bear!," then comedy is certain to ensue. In fact, with minor adjustments, "The River" could easily be a send-up of the whole genre; as it now stands, this will probably turn into some sort of drinking game for fans. (Chug every time someone mentions Teddy!)

That said, "The River" still has a quirkily eccentric charm. It's just so deliciously odd.

BOTTOM LINE Be not afraid. Be very not afraid. (But you will be amused.)

GRADE C+

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