Down the Crazy River
- Friday, February 24, 2012
ABC has entered the horror sweepstakes and the result is pretty scary. The broadcast network is taking a daring plunge into the dark waters which only a few other series have ventured. Will a large audience want to take that thrill ride?
In television's history, the horror genre is a boutique compared to the big box stores of cops, docs and lawyer shows. The old 60s series, Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff, though limited by the era's broadcast standards, managed to evoke some chills and maybe a few nightmares. Occasionally, the classic Twilight Zone would move beyond psychological horror to some downright unsettling images and menacing creatures, as did the other experimental series of the era, The Outer Limits.
Blended usually with science fiction elements, these were memorable for their time but except for the 70s' era Night Stalker, and similarly named Night Gallery, broadcast television, the only kind of programming there was, tended to avoid too many things that go bump in the night. The decade of the 90s brought the classic The X-Files with its hair-raising creatures of the week, and broadcast programming advanced into ickier depictions of aliens and supernatural threats. And yes, recently, shows like The Vampire Diaries, play off the interest in blood sucking undead hunks.
But cable programming is less restricted in content, because of its distribution method through subscriber fees, and thus recently, gore (The Walking Dead), fangs (Tru Blood) plus all of that with ghosts added (Being Human) have shown audiences are hungry for blood and guts on their home screens. Broadcast networks, eager for some of those viewers, have offered this year a fairy tale spin on supernatural creatures in the modern world with NBC's new success, Grimm.
Now, ABC has recruited the creator of the Paranormal Activity films, Oren Peli, to produce a horror series that, like his features, is predicated on being drawn from "found footage," that is, video recordings of the terrifying experiences a cast of characters encounter on a trip down the less friendly stretches of the Amazon.
The pilot episode opens with montage of footage from the long-running nature program, The Undiscovered Country, hosted by the popular Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), whose catch phrase, "There's magic out there," reflects both his curiosity about the wonders he explores and a hint of what's to come.
Cole has been missing in the Amazon basin for over six months. Of course, fans of Shakespeare might recognize the show's title from Hamlet's reference to what lies beyond death and it doubles as a hint of dreadful things that await the search party organized by Cole's wife, Tess, who refuses to believe he is dead. She has funded the venture by agreeing to have Cole's production company record the search as a reality show, thus the premise of a found footage narrative. She manages to persuade their grown son Lincoln to join the search despite his having given up hope that his father survived. Having grown up on camera on Emmet's series, he's tired of the double life the family lived, happy and whole on camera but with secrets and conflict behind the scenes. Lincoln's medical degree will come in handy later on.
Clark Quietly, the show's longtime producer, is driven to pursue the search for the great footage he's sure will made the show a success and his zeal is a not-so-subtle dig at the way so much reality television exploits the people it covers, but he's also been perhaps a bit too cozy with Tess in the past.
When the search party goes down the Amazon and discovers Emmet's abandoned ship, the Magus (another allusion to magic), the stage is set for the truly strange and really paranormal activities to begin, because the boat is a floating television studio with about every angle on board covered with cameras that feed into a central control room.
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