The River, 2018
Signed up the 25/04/2017
The River” is a new South African telenova on what used to be Vuzu AMP, 1Magic, about a wealthy family who owns a mine that is in financial arrears, and a low-class family, whose head of household (Don Mlangeni-Nawa or Zebedee from Isidingo) is one of the workers in the mine. He discovers a diamond which would help the mine recover but then gets killed by the owner (Sindi Dlathu) and thrown in the river upon bringing it to her. It essentially portrays a black woman in a position of power, who is well respected but secretly does acts of crimes behind closed doors, and the only person who is aware of this, is her nephew (sounds familiar right?)
My biggest qualm is not the premise of the show but the execution of the storyline. The show is written by Phatu Makwavela, well-known for writing shows such as Isibaya, Rockville, The Queen, Uzalo, Skeem Saam & Muvhango – which already shows me the direction of script. If same person is gifted with the opportunity to pen many of the same shows, I already see it being unoriginal. Secondly, they rely a lot on one-liners or punchlines on every episode, which they believe is the audience’s niche. Telenovela’s or Soapies also have the habit of focusing on one character which is meant to be the definitive reason for watching because they’re theatrical and funny. But none of it is ever believable. We saw a lot of that with Brutus (Themba Ndaba) from The Queen, who turned out to actually be homophobic and used homophobic slurs to derive his humour from.
It is obviously not possible that a storyline of any series or soapie to remain consistently climatic considering that this is something you have to commit to and ensure that people are entertained on a daily basis – however, if you introduce a likeable main character on the pilot episode and they die within 15 minutes of watching the show without giving the audience any time to fall in love with them, is that not already a recipe for failure? People want to attach themselves or liken themselves to a character. People want to watch someone they can root for. People want something to relate to, and I don’t see that with any of the characters.
Some may argue that Happy, played by the talented up and comer, Tokollo “TK” Sebothoma, is that person. His Pretoria mannerisms and dialect make it easy for myself, also from Pretoria, easy to relate to, as well as induce feelings of nostalgia. Although he did not become the starring character until episode 4 or 5, I hope we don’t see too much screentime from him because I fear his character may become overdramatized and redundant.
Furthermore, the acting is not something to ride home about. Everyone is fairly okay. Moshidi Motshegwa makes a comeback to television as the widow to Don-Mlangeni-Nawa’s character. I would have loved to see the two women provide some range and challenge themselves more by perhaps swapping roles, with Sindi being the down-on-the-luck lower class woman, as opposed to leaving a 20-year role on a popular soapie which you’re typecast from, to play more of the same thing. No one else is worth talking about, but I’m impressed with the woman who plays Tumi.
Subsequently, I think our societal artistry tries too hard to be inclusive of the population. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think too many shows try to scramble in issues of race, gender and sexuality all together when there is no need. Everything needs a purpose, and of course it’s important that all stories are told honestly and thoughtfully. Therefore, I find the rich heterosexual man in a heterosexual relationship having an affair with a queer man, but hiding it from his family because it is important to keep appearance very unnecessary.
So, is it worth it? It plays at the same time as Generations and is on a DStv premium bouquet. Where over 80% of our population earns a household income of less than R10 000 and only 20% of it has DStv, with less having premium, that slot is not very conducive. I say, stick to Generations. If you want a show of this kind, watch Mzansi Magic. I think that it’s also imperative, as a creator, that if you’re going to make a show that is not accessible to a majority of the population, it should at least be better than all the current soapies combined, because you’re implying an increase in standard. Anyway, it’s an okay passerby.
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