Review: ‘Siberia’

Siberia NBC

NBC summer thriller cleverly apes reality shows but takes too long setting up its twist

As summer trips go, “Siberia” isn’t a bad idea, but the series already appears to be a victim of seriously bad timing — sentenced to the scheduling equivalent of you-know-where, what with CBS’ “Under the Dome” having just opened to big numbers in its timeslot. Viewed in a vaccum, the pilot takes too long getting started before planting its own mildly intriguing “Lost”-like mystery, and the thriller-like construct appears flimsy to support a 13-episode run. Still, it’s a credible acquisition with a chance of becoming dramatically interesting, albeit with little likelihood that many will survive as viewers long enough to find out.

The conceit, fairly cleverly disguised, is that the show looks and feels like a reality competition, where 16 international contestants are dropped into Siberia, put through the paces by a dashing host (played by L.A. radio personality Jonathon Buckley) and challenged to brave the elements, all for the opportunity to win $500,000.

Only it’s really a verite-style drama (comparisons have been made to “The Blair Witch Project,” although ABC’s short-lived “The River” might be more germane), where the “contestants” are actors. After the requisite flirting and forming alliances, something happens near the end (too near, frankly) that suggests all is not as it seems, and that the whole survival thing for this diverse band might be considerably thornier than advertised.

Written and directed by Matthew Arnold, the pilot does a nifty job of capturing the tics of such unscripted programs, from the convincing casting and first-person interviews to the shaky camerawork and overhead helicopter shots. In fact, the producers have done their mimicry a little too well; it’s easy to zone out on the blah, blah, blah of the contestant banter while waiting for the twist to actually happen.

Saving the credits for the end, “Siberia” appears to have wanted to leave some viewers a trifle confused, and given that the show is premiering on NBC in July with little advance buzz or promotion, it’s very possible people will wind up being tricked into believing it’s all real, or at least as “real” as this sort of exercise gets.

The Peacock has been fairly aggressive about using international acquisitions, a la “Crossing Lines,” to complement its summer reality fare, allowing the network to boast about a relatively high percentage of original programming. Yet if CBS’ experience is any guide, there’s something to be said for remaining a bit more selective, taking fewer bets and actually cultivating them.

By that measure, “Siberia” isn’t bad, but it does sort of amend an age-old question: If a reality-show-inspired thriller lands in the middle of a scheduling desert, does it make a sound?

Siberia

(Series; NBC, Mon. July 1, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Manitoba by Infinity Films Prod. in association with Sierra-Engine Television and Welldone Prod.

Crew

Executive producers, Michael Ohoven, Chris Philip, Slava Jakovleff, Doug McCallie, Matthew Arnold; co-executive producers, Joyce de Ohoven, Odin Shafer; supervising producer, Dan Katzman; producers, Phyllis Laing, James Gibb; writer-director, Arnold; camera, Michael Applebaum; production designer, Nick Ralbovsky; editor, Herbert James Winterstern; music, Corey Wallace; casting directors, Kerry Rock, Lori Stefaniuk. 60 MIN.

Cast

Joyce Giraud, Johnny Wactor, Esther Anderson, Miljan Milosevic, Irene Yee, Berglind Icey, Sam Dobbins, Sabrina Akhmedova, Natalie Scheetz, Neeko O.J. Skervin, Victoria Hill, Anne-Marie Mueschke, Daniel Sutton, George Dickson, Tommy Mountain, Harpreet Turka, Jonathon Buckley.

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  1. rick obryan says:

    Lions! Tigers! Bears…OH MY! Writing, acting, show concept, all score an F minus. Stupidity, Incredulity, and Train Wreck Factor all score an A+. It was so idiotic, I couldn’t believe it made it to television….. so I’m embarrassed to admit THAT got me to watch 2 episodes.

  2. Norman says:

    all around disaster-bad acting-and if its isnt real, what is the point?

  3. Peter Duncan says:

    How dumb does the network think we are. This is the worst of the worst!

  4. T Karris says:

    I watched the first episode and thought, ok, this may not be too bad. Then I watched the second episode and was disgusted. What are these producers thinking?After what felt like 20 minutes of everyone asking/demanding/wondering what was wrong with Victoria, I had had enough. Sorry Siberia producers, you missed the mark on this. It could have been a good show with some much tighter editing and some more realistic reactions of the characters.

  5. mike maguire says:

    Obviously fake. Finger cut off and the bandage is finger long. Finger down the throat puking was not how people puke. Dead contestant taken away with no explanation as to how he died. Just not believable.

  6. Mar says:

    No one is forcing any one to watch any thing. I happened to like the show, for the uncertainty/fear factor, and this is from someone who does not like shows like Survivor, etc. I am not a TV junkie, and just possibly one of those naive, easy to please TV watchers. Subsequent episodes may change my mind, but for now, i did not find anything better to watch at the same time slot – mostly reruns.

  7. Jean Hendrix says:

    Siberia is such a fake program. The Blair witch project probably has it beat. We were not impressed at all, after all when you watch Survior & you see real people going through the trials of having to live with real strangers not actors, this show & others cannot compete. This is why Survior has been on for 23 yrs & going strong. Will not be watching Siberia again.

  8. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    I watched a preview of the pilot when I was still under the weather and running low on things to watch that showed promise, and I more or less agree with the review. My favorite scene (for some reason; it wasn’t the most dramatic or suspenseful moment on the pilot) was a contestant showing another contestant a frog he’d found… but they decided not to add it to the dinner menu (I hope) because it had three legs. I also tuned out the “confessionals” and the standard reality show boring bullshit, kind of on reflex. I’m not a fan of competition reality shows. Actually, I’m not a fan of reality shows (with a few exceptions such as MONSTER MAN, Immortalized –more on that here, what’s not to like– sometimes Face Off, Scare Tactics when it was on …seeing a pattern?) and I the elimination/survival ones are my least favorite. Anyway, I think even people who avoid reality shows as a rule know the basic formula and structure. I only got interested during the few moments that showed things were going to go horribly wrong, including not just the frog but a monster-ish roar that had the contestants–the smart ones, anyway–shaken up when they realized no animal that mother nature produced naturally could possibly make the roar, the moment a cameraman was discovered half-covered with blood, and the aforementioned 3-legged frog. The most frightening aspect to me, however, is that SOME VIEWERS THINK IT IS REAL. I dout anyone who has seen a horror flick where the premise is the filming of a reality show (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End for one) before the slaughter starts won’t be fooled. When I was Googling Siberia, however, one of the suggestions that popped up way too fast was “is Siberia TV show real”. Really? People think a reality show pilot that contains two deaths would air on TV (with no warning that it contained upsetting content)? The hell with it– I’m watching The Dome instead, which NBC unwisely decided to go head-to-head with in the same time slot as Siberia.

  9. Nate says:

    It’s filmed in Canada and Tommy Mountain tweeted that he was amped to watch the season premier.I guess he was amped to watch is own fake death?

  10. ba says:

    worst thing i’ve ever seen on tv…

  11. Daph says:

    When the “host” came out and announced that the injury to the cameraman was “fatal,” I laughed out loud. It was that hokey. We all watched the guy walk away. I’m assuming these are all paid actors because they all couldn’t be that stupid. I may watch this just for the laugh factor.

    • RJ Osprey says:

      I was waiting to see if someone grabbed the bloody hand, licked it an pronounced, BULLSHIT! I wanted to beat up the boloney actors and script writers. But it’s a better premise than Under the Dome. Fire all the actors and script writers and do reality. They should all be trying to act like real hunters and trappers.

    • Mike says:

      The host said that Tommy’s injury was fatal, not the cameraman’s. Also, of course they’re all paid actors, it’s a drama, not reality TV.

  12. Behj says:

    I agree with Ana, this show is a complete waist of time. Do your self a favor, skip this show, go to your local library and get yourself a few books to pass the summer with.

    • chelsea says:

      For someone who recommended a trip to the library, you should review a spelling book! Waist ( waste). A waist is located near your bellybutton.

      • Ki says:

        Okay… So this show is horrible… The only reason I kept watching it was because the 14 contestants look clueless XD, and the “death” of Johnny? Horrible. You can tell everything is set up.

  13. Ana says:

    I’m a TV junkie and I couldn’t stand the pilot.

    I fast forwarded twice in the HULU stream of Siberia.

    Are you kidding me?

    They practically covered every stereotype: the hot Latina, the ice queen, the Elle McPherson lookalike, the geek, the activist… I know summer TV is bad but this is a step beyond bad. I agree that it takes 45 minutes to send a flimsy plot twist we saw coming from the start.

    Yes, it meant to twist the reality TV we’re used to, but it’s all over the top and with styling that it’s practically laughable.

    I’m not watching the second episode at all.

    What a huge dissapoinment :(

    • Angel says:

      Getting past the horrible acting on the preview for this show proved to be impossible. Stereotypes and predictability aside, the acting was, quite simply, a disaster.

      I will not be suffering through any more of this program. (I use the term program loosely.)

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