'The River' is brimming with potential to be a really great telenovela
By Buhle Mbonambi Jan 31, 2018
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There are always a few things I check for before I watch a TV series. What it’s classified as, the cast and the writers. Only then do I decide how high my expectations of a show are and whether to judge it harshly or be kind. How I judge a show is mainly how much time I spend watching it. If I have to search for more information about a show — I love it.
If I have to be really bored out of my skull to watch a show, then I obviously hate it. And there’s no middle ground. Not in this age of peak TV.
It was with this in mind that I approached 1 Magic’s new telenovela, The River, which stars Sindi Dlathu, Hlomla Dandala, Moshidi Motshegwa and Don Mlangeni. Created by Phathu Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon of Tshedza Pictures and co-produced by Connie and Shona Ferguson and direction by Johnny Barbuzano, I had high expectations, purely because the five of them have created some riveting TV before and add the under appreciated Dlathu, Motshegwa and Mlangeni is the mix, I was obviously intrigued.
The opening scene had me on the edge of my seat. Either it was anticipation of drama or a feeling of dread. A death in the first few minutes of a show can always go haywire and no one wants that. Jumping the shark is normally left for the second season of a TV show. But it turns out it was a necessary storytelling device that will be explained in the flashback. Oh and there are three deaths in the first episode, including a suicide. Pretty wild.
The River tells the story of a mining magnate, Lindiwe (Dlathu) whose mine is seemingly out of minerals to mine. Facing financial ruin, she has to do unspeakable things in order to keep the façade that the mine is doing well. Needless to say, most of her family members are unaware about the crisis and she only has her nephew, Zolani, (a stern, almost too serious Lawrence Maleka) as her confidante. He knows the real Lindiwe and the lengths she will go to protect her wealth, lengths that saw her murder two people in cold blood in the first episode.
The juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots is typical South Africa and shows the intersection of the two societies and where they all meet- at work. There’s interesting themes at play here already and while not new, they could result in some emotional scenes that would bring out some great acting from the cast.
The River has potential to be a great show. There are three major plot points that the show is likely to explore and with the viewer knowing more than the characters, it's interesting how we will get to the moment that opened the show- a cold blooded murder. There’s also the back story of a baby abandoned by a young Lindiwe by the river (hence the title), the diamond found on the bed of the river and the man who found the baby by the river. All of this is obviously linked and it’s up to the writers and the producers to make sure the story is not predictable.
The River Executive Producers Gwydion Beynon and Phathutshedzo Makwarela as well as show leads Sindi Dlathu and Hlomla Dandala share the journey creating a powerful story #1Magic#TheRiverpic.twitter.com/WhxbewieYo
It’s interesting to see Dlathu cast in a role where she’s a villain. After two decades as the long-suffering Thandaza Buthelezi-Mukhwevo-Mokoena on SABC 2’s Muvhango, The River presents an opportunity for her to prove her mettle as an actor. It’s a meaty role, one that should do for her what Rockville and The Queen did for Connie Ferguson. That’s the thing about soapies- playing one character for a long time can do a lot of damage to a person’s acting skills. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what she does with the role.
Dandala plays her husband, a sex mad kept man who is a typical nouveau riche person with delusiona of grandeur seems to have government contacts, which could be interesting later on in the show. Motshegwa plays Mlangeni’s wife and I’m excited to see her back on TV. She’s truly one of the best actors we have in the country.
It’s a high gloss production, one that boasts beautiful cinematography (those aerial shots of the flowing river were amazing) and an expensive wardrobe (Maxhosa by Laduma skirt, Zara two piec pyjama suit and Christian Louboutin shoes). It has to be that way because the show is on a premium channel which also airs The Fixer, How To Get Away With Murder and Queen Sugar, shows that feature strong women characters.
It’s also a chance for Tshedza Pictures to prove that they have what it takes to produce groundbreaking television that can stand with the best in the world. Makwarela and Beynon have become South Africa’s celebrity TV writers and the pressure is on for them to deliver.
The River is not perfect and I do wish that it was a drama instead of a telenovela, however it’s still a show that I plan to watch until it ends. But only if they make sure I go back and find out more about the show when I’m done watching an episode.