July 9, 2013



SIBERIA:  Monday 10PM on NBC

Previously… on SIBERIA:  What’s worse than being on yet another reality TV competition show?  Being on one where unknown creatures are trying to kill you.  The contestants on SIBERIA have been flown out to a remote outpost in guess-where, with the idea that whoever makes it to the end of winter will split a $500K prize, but by the end of the pilot, someone was mysteriously dead, and there were plenty of other signs that nothing good was ahead for the group.

Episode 2:  The show is hanging on to its faux-reality show gimmick to a fault (although oddly enough, this appears to be the only reality competition on TV that has no weekly elimination ceremony, other than the one the possible monsters provide).  Much of episode 2, written by Travis Rooks and directed by series creator Matthew Arnold, is therefore taken up with the kind of things you’d expect on such a show:  food is found, and various characters begin to show their (seemingly) true colors, with the British rugby player (the actors use their own names for the sake of verisimilitude, and his is Neeko) emerging as a leader, the American bull rider Johnny displaying his selfishness (he may or may not have taken the gun apparently left for the contestants and stolen the bullets from Neeko), and the Australian model Esther deliberately poisoning another contestant, Victoria, with hallucinogenic mushrooms.  However, since this is also a thriller, the hallucinations Victoria has are purported visions of the future, which in this case means seeing everyone at the camp dead.

When Siberia isn’t being Survivor, it’s being The Blair Witch Project, which in this case means some handheld shaky-cam footage of computer nerd Daniel wandering in the forest on the hunt for clues to the mysterious death of last week’s victim, finding a dinosaur-sized footprint and what appears to be a cave painting of a giant winged beast that we’ll no doubt be hearing more about in episodes to come.

Siberia is admirably true to its conceit, and it does a good job technically of simulating the style of its supposed genre, but that adherence to form is itself a problem.  Actual reality shows don’t offer the deep characterizations of fiction, or the pleasures of strong narrative and well-written dialogue, and all of those are lacking in Siberia as well.  The people here are about as detailed as the victims-to-be in a Friday the 13th slasher movie (and the acting is similarly minimal), while the dialogue is flat and purely functional.  Also, since the rules of this particular reality show don’t seem to involve any of the “challenges” or votes that real ones use to keep things moving–in fact, there’s hardly any structure at all–the show just meanders along from straight-to-camera interview to bickering to walking-in-the-woods sequence.  We’re 2 episodes in, and it’s already starting to feel repetitive and uncompelling.

Siberia stirred little interest from viewers in last week’s premiere, and it’s unlikely to pull in many new fans (especially since it’s airing directly against CBS’s hit Under the Dome).  It offers a little originality amid the summer stack of procedurals, but caught between the conventions of reality TV and low-budget thriller, it’s not offering the full strengths of either.


PILOT + 1:  The Conceit’s Appeal Is Fading


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."