Tuesday, 12 July 2016

RIVER – BBC TV Series, possibly the best cop drama

I have just completed watching the entire six episodes of the BBC  TV series River and was just blown by how superlative this series was.

TV series are the new addiction replacing books and cinema (and also given that for me, good or actually any theatre is not easy to access right now). TV series are easily accessible and every episode not just one as the earlier appointment viewing format did. Thus binge watching is more the norm and can be satiating too.  

The craze nowadays is to find out a TV series that’s good - Kind of like waiting for the next book from a renowned author.  You are on the lookout for a series that one can watch over the weekend or savour over a few days, say, while travelling. So one is following opinion leaders for ‘leads’ – mine include folks like Poonam Saxena, Vir Sanghvi, and of course Twitter where the new young  millennials initiate the trend on the latest TV series craze.

The reason for this ambling is to highlight the fact that despite this being a past time for the last few years, I have missed the RIVER TV series, and a search in my social media also suggests most haven’t seen it.

Which is a pity, because RIVER  beats them all and IMHO one of the best well produced series that I have had the pleasure of viewing.

There are quite a few police cop dramas and very familiar plotlines, tropes and arcs (see its easy to pick up jargon once you read a few reviews? :0) but despite recognizing them you look forward to it.  Recently the one which caught imagination was the TV series LUTHER from the UK which was good in its first couple of seasons. But I think River was several several notches above this.  Even the other thrillers like the night manager and London Boy to me paled in front of this, and all of these were really popular well-liked, and well-produced TV series.

RIVER is a whodunit cop drama series which is narrated across six one hour episodes and possibly one of the best narrations of a storyline built beautifully.  Like all good whodunits, the narrative slowly unravels clues and characters and situations and as you get close to the end you have more or less predicted who had done it, and almost all such serials or films follow a predictable denoument.

But in RIVER there’s a lot more. I was blown away by the acting performances.  Nearly all the actors in RIVER are famous and those you have seen elsewhere, but I think they put in their best in RIVER.  There is a lot of human frailty, naturalness and ‘mortality’ in their performance which connected immediately.  Even in those scenes which are inserted for manipulation and seemed a contrived plot filler, the actors helped raise the bar, you don’t mind it at all.  Everyone enacts their roles brilliantly and there's that certain world-weariness and weight that their eyes, body language and dialog delivery conveys which I have rarely seen in recent years. The hero Stellan skarsgard who I’d seen across Ronin, Mama Mia and other films, was a big big surprise.
The face, the eyes, the dialogue delivery and absolute transparency in revealing the character’s feelings are top notch right up with the best. I felt it was worthy of an Oscar.  (yes, pity !!!)

Another facet that was transformative was the lines in the film.  There’s none of that dramatic flourish in the lines, but they definitely punch you in the gut and bring out the layers in interactions and character’s emotional depths.  You need to watch it and can feel your eyebrows raise or get gooseflesh as some of these lines transfer their import to you, delivered brilliantly of course.

And of course the direction.  The  TV series grips you like few do, so much that the initial scenes and episodes need to be re-watched again as you might have missed quite a few clues. Yes, it sounds quite like the Sixth Sense, only better.

One of the key dramatic devices and plotlines in this is how the hero can hear voices of the dead (including eerily a notorious Victorian murderer hanged over 100 years ago!).  But this feels so natural and worked into the narrative brilliantly and conveys a lot more than distracts.  And like I said, stellan’s acting helps raise this far far several notches above.  Also another good point about the narration is the fact that unlike other whodunits, there are never any distractions or misguiding clues or transference, it just moves linearly – and that’s a great thing because then the focus is purely on the performance and the characters.

I savoured this series over about five days, which is kinda a record because this was so good, I’d have preferred to binge watch it.  But each episode was so good that I sometimes had to pause within each episode, as some scenes  lines and performances were truly moving (episode 2 is outstanding). Even towards the end as it moves to the predictable catching off the culprit, the performances help remove the artifice and familiar lines we normally hear on such occasions are delivered in such a powerful but natural way (without dramatic flourish, I need to add) that it impresses you instead of the normal jaded response these receive.

One of the reasons for me RIVER worked also, was because of the fact that this was me discovering a treasure myself.

Most of the TV series were already trending and I was a late laggard when I saw them. There already was both an expectation as well as familiarity, and sometimes this was colored by what others had said (though, I have discovered I agree with very very few reviewers and mostly disappointed by the hyperbolic praise showered on some , that you eventually get disappointed instead of enjoying the movie).

In the case of River, it hardly enjoyed much success both in terms of social media following or discussion – it didn’t even merit any nominations at the BAFTAs.

Which was a pity, because a real GEM of a TV series has not been celebrated enough. For me the joy was discovering how it brought out the fabulous talents of actors that you have been seeing over several years, but only RIVER managed to extract their best. 

Highly recommended. Keep an open mind, focus on the performance and not the story and it will really strike several notes that will echo in your minds and hearts.