The Following Sneak Peak
Various writers and directors
Created by Kevin Williamson
Series premiere on January 21st, 2013
Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy
James Purefoy as Joe Carroll
Shawn Ashmore as Mike Weston
Kyle Catlett as Joey Matthews
Natalie Zea as Claire Matthews
Annie Parisse as Debra Parker
Nico Tortorella as Will Wilson
I don’t watch a lot of TV shows as they air. I usually wait for a couple seasons to pile up and then I watch them via Netflix or season box sets. And even then, it’s usually shows that find their home on cable as opposed to network television because the former treats me like the adult that I am more so than the latter. Cable has a much longer leash when it comes to adult content and it’s obvious. Do you really think The Walking Dead would get away with what it does if it were aired on broadcast TV? Holy shit, can you even begin to imagine the parent groups out there threatening boycotts and demanding we think of the children. So when I caught wind of Fox’s upcoming show The Following, my interest was only mildly piqued. Sure, it has Kevin Bacon as the lead – a guy who is consistently solid in his performances. And, yes, it centers on a serial killer and his cult. Hell, it’s even created by Kevin Williamson, the same guy who wrote the Scream movies, Teaching Mrs. Tingle and kind of penned I Know What You Did Last Summer (at least the screenplay). But I was still hesitant about it being on Fox. Network television. How far could it go? After viewing the first four episodes, it’s obvious it went as far as it possibly could.
In the pilot episode, The Following wastes no time establishing the players and what to expect for the season. After serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy – Resident Evil, TV’s Rome) escapes from prison, leaving a bloodbath in his wake, the FBI calls upon former agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon) for his assistance in capturing the psychopath. Seems like Hardy was the man who captured Carroll years prior, effectively ending his killing streak of 14 college co-eds. Hardy’s success was not without failure, though. His last encounter with Carroll found Hardy with knife through the chest resulting in a pacemaker, forced retirement and ultimate alcoholism. But despite his demons, the former agent is a man of conscience, so he reluctantly jumps onboard the task force charged with the re-capture of the escaped convict.
The pilot is very reminiscent of the fantastic 1986 film Manhunter. Both have a retired agent with serious personal issues reluctantly brought back to the job to track down evil, as they know the killer better than anyone else. However, Manhunter is a Disney movie compared to the unapologetic violence The Following throws at the screen. I have to admit, I was surprised from the get go at the blood and grue presented in these first four episodes. Pleasantly so. Any doubts of holding back due to its primetime showing are cleared up within minutes. If the prison escape doesn’t convince you that there will be blood, the empty eye sockets of Carroll’s victims will.
The plot is basic yet complicated. During his time in the pokey, Carroll has amassed quite a following (if you will). Budding serial killers looking to do their master’s bidding. He’s the Charlie Manson of our times, but much smarter. He spent his years wisely, gathering up a crew and making a grand plan of revenge on Hardy for putting him away. His escape is only the beginning of Hardy’s problems and the first four episodes make it clear that these problems aren’t going away any time soon. They will only get worse.
A former English professor before he went all crazy and slaughtered a bunch of women, Carroll forces Hardy into a game of cat and mouse, claiming that the former agent is the main character of his next unwritten book, one of which Hardy ultimately decides how ends. Each task charged is another chapter in the antagonist’s great novel. While this idea is interesting in itself, it becomes overbearing at times. See, Carroll is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe (both the works and the man) and, boy, The Following doesn’t let you forget it. From “Nevermore” written seemingly everywhere, from walls to bodies, you can’t get away from it. It’s EVERYWHERE and it loses some of its impact due to its overplay. That said, the Poe angle does allow for one fantastically creepy segment, where Hardy is searching a house and comes into a room with heads of the Baltimore author lining a wall. Even with that, though, I hope these nods are less as the show goes on.
Where the violence is on par with a cable show, the writing still feels network. Each episode feels like it’s in a hurry to tell the story, and because of this rush things that could be made to be believable feel at times unbelievable. For instance, within the first four episodes there are five people working to do Carroll’s bidding. Granted, how it all comes together is quite impressive and very feasible, but the show would have gained from spending a little more time getting the secondary characters in place. Things steamroll so quickly, you barely have time to catch your breath before another twist (which so far this show has plenty of) is thrown at you. Give me a chance to savor this wine before you thrust another glass in my hand. A show of this type demands patience, so give it some. Look at Dexter. Sure, it’s chock full of crime and punishment, but there’s also the joy of watching the titular character spend awkward time with his family and co-workers. Even so, and perhaps because of the speed, you very quickly learn you can’t trust anyone. Everyone is a potential follower. And that keeping you on edge does work on some level.
The acting in The Following is what should be expected from a primetime TV show. Bacon, as mentioned, is always on his game – although I wish we’d see more emotion from him besides the doom and gloom. Shawn Ashmore (Mother’s Day) is exceptional as Mike, an agent who inevitably gets charged with babysitting Hardy, which is no problem because he worships him. Natalie Zea (TV’s Justified) is great as Carroll’s ex-wife, dealing with her ex-husband’s latest antics. Zea and Bacon have an interesting history, and the two are terrific when on screen together. And Purefoy owns his role as the feline in this game of cat and mouse. He’s the antithesis of creepy bad guy, coming across as rather likeable. Think Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy in The Deliberate Stranger as opposed to Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and its shit sequels. The character (and those like it) of the latter is so tired and clichéd, it’s refreshing to have a change of pace. It’s even against typical serial-killer grain when Bacon inevitably foils Carroll at one part, to which the killer doesn’t act like he’s not bothered. He is and it shows. Things didn’t go as planned, and he’s a bit miffed. Purefoy shows this in a wonderful, subtle way.
The Following premieres Monday (January 21st) at 9:00pm on Fox. I suspect there’ll be a tremendous amount of backlash to the violence in the show, especially with the recent tragedies at Sandy Hook. To say this is bad timing for Fox is an understatement. Regardless, I hope the show will get through the inevitable uproar because I think given the chance to find its feet, The Following has a tremendous amount of potential. When I popped the review disc in, my original plan was to just check out the pilot episode. After seeing its absolutely brutal ending (which truly surprised me because I didn’t think they’d do that), I decided to watch the next. Then the next. I didn’t watch the fourth until I set my TiVo for a season pass, then I finished off the disc. I have high hopes for The Following. The writing can be a bit better, and I’d like to think it will get there. All Fox needs to do is weather the incoming storm and let this show blossom. I'm only four episodes in and I’m already looking forward to next season.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.