First Impression Review: NBC’s Siberia Has Potential That Could Easily Go Either Way

NBC Siberia

Basic set-up spoilers.

The amount of information you have going into the premiere of NBC’s Siberia will greatly affect your first impressions of the show.

If you want to go into the show cold, then read no further, though let me say the show has plenty of potential.

Now, if you haven’t heard about what Siberia is all about, it is a fictional drama series (emphasis on “fictional”) about a reality show set in remote Siberia. Sixteen contestants are dropped in the Russian wilderness for a Survivor-like game of survival. There are no rules, other than to survive the winter. The last ones standing at the end will split $500,000.

But things start to turn when the contestants hear strange sounds from the forest, one of their fellow contestants goes missing and a cameraman comes back to camp with his head busted open.

The contestants don’t know this location, Tunguska, is the site of an unexplained explosion in 1908, believed to have been caused by a meteor. But whether or not that has anything to do with the strange things that are starting to happen is just one possibility.

For me, I knew going in that this was a scripted drama about a reality show gone wrong. But for someone who might not even know what the show is about could very well believe it was a real reality show.

Viewers like me who are familiar with reality-competition shows could find Siberia‘s start to be very amusing. Shot and presented as if this were an actual reality show episode, it is easy to spot the usual “Getting to know each other” gatherings and battles over sleeping arrangements (like Big Brother) and the hunting for resources (Survivor) and even pairing up to complete a race to their “settlement” (The Amazing Race!).

But knowing the series was a scripted drama made for an awkward first impression. You may be enjoying this Survivor rip-off reality show, but you’re also waiting for the spooks and monsters to start appearing.

And they do start right at the end of the premiere.

Having the series presented as if it were an actual reality show before eventually shifting into a sort of hybrid, found footage-type of narrative is both interesting and awkward. The fact that Siberia‘s reality show premise is actually believable adds to the almost jarring experience. But when the episode ends with the contestants’ first experience with the strange, possibly supernatural elements’ of the Siberian forest, things turn hopeful for us the viewer.

Siberia is a mystery thriller. And while it takes the entire first episode to really establish that, the setup should prove worthwhile if the contestants’ story of survival (whether it’s survival in the competition for half a million dollars, survival against each other or survival against the great unknown prowling the forest) becomes truly compelling and engaging.

The first episode isn’t enough to judge that yet, but there is plenty of potential in play. The series could stay on track and grow into a truly exciting adventure or it could go the way of other high concept series that collapse in on itself (hello Persons Unknown). Siberia is a fresh take on the genre with its reality show novelty an amusing and awkward, though necessary means to what is hopefully an exciting and worthwhile end.

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