or two... Actually, make that three...
2011 was a bad year for the kind of serialized storytelling I like: The failure of Prospect Park to move canceled ABC soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live, online; the parade of shows leaving the air on the broadcast networks, (Friday Night Lights, NBC, Life UneXpected, CW), basic cable (Men of A Certain Age, TNT), premium cable (In Treatment, HBO), as well as the end of the one web series that had truly captured my heart, Anyone But Me.
Not surprisingnly, I’ve been in a bit of a funk, and finding it hard to write. So, I’ve very much been looking forward to a new web series, River Ridge. There’s been buzz around this show since mid-2010. It has a stellar cast of soap opera vets: Julie Pinson; Signy Coleman; Beth Ehlers. And, creator Tyler Ford had the sheer audacity to schedule the show's premier on SFNTV to coincide with the airing of OLTL’s final episode – Friday, January 13th no less – which I, for one, took as a hopeful sign.
Sad to say half way through RR’s first season, I’m frustrated, disappointed, and more than a little discouraged. Four episodes in, what sticks most in my mind are the two characters I still refer to as “unnamed couple #1.” Now, technically, I actually do know their names, but only because of the episode descriptions – “A confrontational brunch with Brad’s mother leaves Kenzie hysterically distraught.” But, since through RR’s first four episodes these characters have interacted only with each other – that “confrontational brunch” took place off-screen – not only do have I not heard their names on-screen, I don’t have a clue how they’re connected to the rest of the characters.
Now, there was an "unnamed couple #2” I was able to indentify by the third episode. It required some deductive reasoning I could have skipped if in the first episode Beth Ehlers’ character, Coryn, had called Signy Coleman’s character, Sharon, by name. I simply don’t get why Tyler Ford wants to make viewers work so hard for something so basic to the storytelling. Yes, the fact that soaps repeat characters’ names frequently is a cliché; that's no reason to antagonize viewers. Frankly I’d rather invest my time thinking about the characters. Why, for example, after Coryn’s car was repossessed in the first episode, did she come home to find a foreclosure notice in the door? Financial ruin doesn’t happen overnight; what’s the backstory? While screaming at her daughter (and son and her daughter’s teacher), Coryn said that her husband was a dreamer and look where that got us. But, like Brad’s mother, Coryn’s husband is off-screen, so we’re not going to hear a conversation between them – just her version of events.
And therein lies the real problem with River Ridge; the storytelling is little more than a disjointed mess of exposition – overwrought and frequently laced with obscenities. The cast is too big; there are a dozen characters. The episodes range from 12 to 17 minutes, including several minutes for quasi musical videos, along with the opening and closing credits, not nearly enough time to fully develop such a large cast – a problem exacerbated by the fact that there are never more than two characters per scene – so rather than plum the emotional depths, the dialogue barely scratches the surface.
Tyler Ford describes himself as a “hyper-cinematic” writer – a lot of stories that intertwine and intersect – whose storytelling philosophy is “to inform and educate first, and entertain secondarily.” Well... From where I'm sitting, the short, disconnected scenes lack focus and context, which leaves me more confused - and frustrated - than entertained. And that brings me to the third name; I had to watch the forth episode twice before, through a process of elimination, I figured out that the "Reese" the episode description said had "an unexpected visitor," was actually the girlfriend of another character, Avery.
Notwithstanding Ford's desire to "inform" viewers, his storytelling has been clunky, not to mention anticlimatic, from the get go. When the opening shot of the first episode is a woman looking at a photograph of the teenaged boy who appears in the next scene, are viewers supposed to be surprised when she's revealed to be his mother a couple episodes later?
And I'm not at all clear about the education aspect of River Ridge, but to paraphrase Robert Redford's observation when he meets Paul Newman’s character in The Sting: I already know how to swear.
© 2012 Lynn Liccardo
Limited Licensing: I, Lynn Liccardo, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only.
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