Monday, July 01, 2013


Anyone unfamiliar with the premise of NBC's Siberia would be forgiven for turning off the first episode halfway through, mistaking it for another second-rate summer reality show, a derivative take on elements of Survivor and The Amazing Race. But Siberia isn't a second-rate reality show; it isn't a reality show at all, but rather a scripted drama presented in the style of a reality show, in which terrible things start happening on a familiar-looking survival competition series (featuring 16 contestants dropped in the titular location and forced to fend for themselves).

Those terrible things don't really show up until the end of the first episode, which is why less informed viewers might just assume that Siberia is a typical reality show. Creator Matthew Arnold, who wrote and directed the pilot, does a fantastic job of mimicking the style and tone of reality shows, from the time-lapse shots of the outdoors to the talking-head interviews to the pompous host. He copies the style so well that the episode actually gets a little tedious, especially if you know that nasty things are in store for the "contestants" (played by actors all using their real first names), and are waiting for them to show up.

It's hard to tell from this first episode how well Siberia will play out over the course of a whole season. Although its style may copy Survivor, the show that Siberia most closely resembles is ABC's The River, which was also presented like a reality show (albeit a nature-exploration show, not a survival competition). The River started with a very promising pilot before quickly painting itself into a corner, and Siberia could run into the same problems. In particular, I wonder if the reality-TV style will extend throughout the entire season; under attack from mysterious forces, will the contestants continue giving explanatory interviews, and will the cameramen continue dutifully shooting everything? For now, at least, I'm interested enough to find out.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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