Thursday, February 16, 2012

TV Reviews: Justified, Revenge & The River

A few brief reviews of new and recently returned television shows. Read on for comments on Revenge and The River.


   I definitely have a soft spot for this show. It's given us some truly great episodes before, and the slow burn of plot lines during the season always pays off in a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing climax/finale.  However, there is one huge complaint I have about this show, and it involves the magnetic, charming, talented lead Timothy Olyphant, whom I could watch in just about anything.

Which is just the problem: He's not on screen nearly enough. Some weeks he's only present for about 50% of the episode, and aside from the annoyance that Justified is marketed as a full hour of watching Olyphant be a badass, the characters they choose to focus on rather than Deputy Marshall Raylon Givens are never as interesting. In fact, what we usually get to watch is a series of increasingly disturbing scenes portraying criminal activity and the horrors that uncivilized conscienceless men are capable of.

    Givens is a fantastic character; alluring, strong, dynamic, thoughtful, intelligent and often surprisingly vulnerable. I can possibly see the danger of overusing him, but Olyphant's minimalist approach all but guarantees that would never happen. Regardless, the truth is they underuse him, and give us hard to watch, two-dimensional characters who are not the reason people watch this show.

    Aside from not getting to watch Olyphant enough, there are some discrepancies in his detective abilities. Some episodes have him figuring out the crime and the perpetrators swiftly and with skill. Others, like this week, have him slowly following the trail without and flashes of insight, even though the problem was fairly easy to figure out. I enjoy seeing his coworkers in the Marshall department more than his enemies. Boyd Crowder is better than most, but the new villains do not compare to last season's Mags Bennett. Both the local, rootsy black bad guy who is always barbecuing and the rich, carpetbagging, Detroit white bad guy hold little interest.

    What IS of interest, and deserves the majority of the writers' attention, is Raylon Givens himself. But even when he's only on screen half the time, he nails every scene and I will continue to tune in.


This very soapy serial started out strong, and I was excited to see what they would do with a full season, expecting both a Count of Monte Cristo drama and fun performances from Emily VanCamp.  However, the success of the first few episodes quickly hamstringed the show. They admittedly began stretching things out, adding filler episodes and delaying the violent beach climax teased in the pilot. The story lost steam, and Emily/Amanda began to lose our sympathy.

   And when the heavily foreshadowed violence was finally reached (just last night) the reveal was very disappointing. Rather than a death and tragedy that would open new directions and challenge the premise of the show, we got a throwaway murder that made the episode no different than any of the violent ones at the beginning of the season. The plot needs to step up, the writers need to take some risks, and if they don't start working on Emily's characterization (her cold fury has worn thin; at the very least have her display a greater ingenuity and resourcefulness and aggression) then this show is getting taken off the DVR list.

The River

    Considering how overrated Steven Spielberg is, and how tiresome it is to hear his name dropped as a distant producer in some new television event, I was surprised how good the pilot was. Credit should probably go to the other name they've been marketing, the director of the show whose claim to fame is Paranormal Activity. I haven't seen that film, but the effectiveness of this show has surprised me and won me over quickly.

    Nearly all the characters are fully-formed and interesting (I say nearly because the blonde chick is unconvincing in all things; her love for the son, her expertise, her fear, etc) and I felt immediately invested in their welfare and their hopes. 

     As for the horror elements, I find them astoundingly successful. I wrote on this blog awhile ago about the "failure" of horror in TV in Harper's Island, encouraging the big prime time networks to not give up on the genre. Other attempts have recently been made, such as the Walking Dead and American Horror Story, both of which completely missed the mark for me. But in The River, everything generally coalesces to give you that pleasant tingle in your spine or the half churn of your stomach that a good scare provides.

    The pace is one reason the scares are effective, rarely letting the viewer, or the characters, settle in any one place or period of comfort before menaced with a threat, known or otherwise. The documentary style filming approach, with cameras all over the boat along with trained cameramen, is clearly a forte of the Paranormal Activity director, and not very original, but it suits the show perfectly. The show within a show motif, the perspectives of viewing horror and feeling immersed it in it, all enhance the consistent mood of danger and the need to be as observant as possible. They've even managed to throw in some true humor, such as AJ the cameraman's fear of caves explained in enthusiastic monologues. Most remarkably, for me perhaps, are the supernatural elements. Usually I prefer my horror to be of the slasher variety; a bad guy versus a good guy, tangible evil rather than ghosts and malevolent spirits. Perhaps it is the jungle setting of the Amazon, a character in itself, that lends itself to various myths and scary legends, but credit goes to the writers who spend no more time on exposition than absolutely necessary, and the actors whose mixture of disbelief and the acceptance of the inexplicable required to survive maintain the viewers' trust and understanding of the danger.

    All in all, this show started very strongly, and the first regular season episode, easily and often a simple generic filler, continued the high quality of the two hour premiere. I am not only going to keep watching, but must admit to a sense of impatience for the next installment. Worth checking out for fans of both horror, mystery and adventure.

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