Like the Alcatraz panel, The River‘s consisted of a pilot screening and an extremely brief session with the cast and crew. Producer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) led the panel discussion, but before I get into that, I want to give my initial impressions surrounding the spooky premiere episode. In my humble opinion, the pilot is a raging success. Why? One simple reason: it is extremely engaging. It manages to not only introduce viewers to the heap of main characters, but it also get them emotionally invested in their actions and purpose. And all the while the situation that these people are placed in is horrifying, mysterious, and intriguing all at once.
In a nutshell, The River is about a man who goes missing (Emmett Cole played by Bruce Greenwood) and the rescue mission led by his wife (24‘s Leslie Hope) and son (Joe Anderson) to find him. Peli borrows immensely from his Paranormal Activity style of shooting; lots of shaky-cam footage is used here. You see, before Emmett Cole went missing he was a well-know TV personality who hosted a nature show called The Undiscovered Country for nearly 20 years; a camera crew led by another 24 alum Paul Blackthorne is documenting and paying for the rescue mission. Another page ripped out of Paranormal: this show is set up to be a supernatural, genuinely scary series. In the first episode alone the Cole family has to deal with a ghostly demon of sorts that’ll make you jump off your couch more than once. I won’t say more beyond that, but you get the idea.
In the pilot, Peli has masterfully transferred his ability to spook viewers from the big screen to network TV. ABC assured Peli that he can “go as scary as [he] wants to go.” Peli said that he wants viewers to “experience real fear” while watching his new show. But don’t expect The River to be a gory bloodbath. Peli described the show as “less Saw and more Poltergeist” and you definitely get that sense after watching the pilot.
It seems obvious that this show will be highly serialized, and viewers will have to tune in each week to discover the mystery behind Cole’s disappearance. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s something that the crew finds shortly after they embark on the rescue mission that’ll likely pull you in for the ride. Shaky-cam, spooks and all, The River is primed to be a must-see TV event this midseason.
I admit, I am still a SpongeBob fan. After all these years, there’s nothing like tuning into Nick and watching the flamboyant yellow sponge do his thing. And so I sat through the SpongeBob Squarepants panel at Comic Con (which took place immediately before the panel for The River in the same room) with a wide-eyed smile from ear to ear. Highlights comin’ right atcha:
- On the panel were creative director Vincent Waller (he comes from Ren & Stimpy) and writers Paul Tibbett and Mr. Lawrence (he gives Plankton a voice).
- During the panel they previewed upcoming SpongeBob episodes and specials using clips and rough storyboard images.
- In “Mermaid Man Begins” we will learn the origin story of the underwater superhero and his sidekick Barnacle Boy; In “Bubble Buddy Returns” SpongeBob’s Leif Erikson Day friend comes back to Bikini Bottom and Sponge offers to babysit his kids; Plankton and Man Ray will join forces (and Man Ray will get fat from eating too many Krabby Patties); Plankton will steal SB’s DNA so that he grows a second eye; in “InSpongeiac” Mr. Crabs has a nightmare and turns into a mustard dispenser; SB and Patrick will house sit for Sandy; in “Ghoul Fools” the Flying Dutchman returns and funnyman Chris Elliot will voice the First Mate ghoul; the “Runaway Roadtrip” special is an anthology episode airing this fall that will follow each of the main characters going on vacation; in the clip titled “Patrick’s Staycation” SpongeBob encourages his best friend to stay home for vacation and he caters to his every whim.
- In the Christmas 2012 special “Tis the Season to be Jerky” the Bikini Bottom gang are reimagined as puppets. They played a clip from the special and the live action puppets matched with the animation works really well. The puppets were sculpted and painted specifically for this episode.
- When a fan asked how the creative team manages to cater to the younger demographic and yet still keep hold of an older audience the scribes said that “[they] don’t write [the show] for any one demo, [they] write for everyone.” They admit, like I did, that they are simply “grown up kids.”
- And here’s a neat little fun fact: when he was creating the character SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg turned to Jerry Lewis and Pee-wee Herman for inspiration!