by Jesus Ibarra
Kevin Williamson, the man behind the Scream film series and The Vampire Diaries, comes to FOX with a new gory, gutsy show starring Kevin Bacon; giving his take on serial killers.
The Following got a ton of press for feeling like a cable show on network TV and for being really dark, violent and edgy. Being a huge TV fan, especially of cable television, I was intrigued. Much more because FOX desperately needed some creative new dramas; with House and Fringe gone and The Mob Doctor a mediocre nonstarter in the fall. So what is The Following? Think of it as if a serial killer took Twitter into real life.
Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) savagely killed 14 college women in an attempt to make art stemming from his obsession with Edgar Allan Poe. FBI agent Ryan Hard (Kevin Bacon) caught him eight years ago with the investigation and capture costing him his job and a piece of his heart. Literally, the guy has a pacemaker to this day. In the eight years since his incarceration, Carroll has been amassing followers teaching them how to be serial killers, while Hardy wrote a book about the investigation and became a boozing loner. The FBI draws Hardy back when Carroll escapes and everyone proceeds to freak out.
The pilot is a bit clichéd, as this show is actively trying to scare you. My observation is that often the scariest things happen when you don’t try so hard, but there are some great ideas and characters that can really make the show incredibly good in the long run.
The beginning of the pilot is very slow as it introduces us to the array of characters; so a lot of them come off as cardboard cutouts of past characters that become staples of popular culture. Ryan Hardy is the brooding, broken hero who plays off his instincts. Carroll is the smart serial killer ala Hannibal Lector. The FBI are nonbelievers even though they have asked Ryan to help recapture Carroll. Just stick it out through the clichés–there will be some new ideas and some new characters. There is Claire (Natalie Zea), Carroll’s ex who slept with Hardy and probably helped take Carroll down. There is also Claire and Carroll’s son who is old enough to know what his father is, and then there are the Followers who do Carroll’s bidding.
Objectively the pilot is good, it does the job of telling a self-contained story with a good hook end and twist to intrigue people to keep tuning in. The writing maybe a bit clichéd and man, do they lay on the Edgar Allen Poe analysis thick (reminding me of intro literature in high school). It’s in the latter half of the pilot where the characters shine, and the dialogue gets much better. The pacing and the direction was really good; I never once had the urge to check how much time was left in the pilot. The use of flashbacks serviced the story in a great way, and never felt like too much.
The real reason the pilot gets better towards the end is that Bacon starts to have great chemistry with the other actors and characters, especially Natalie Zea and James Purefoy. Finally, the thing I loved is something that is trademark Williamson: going Meta. By the end we find out Carroll’s ultimate plan is to write a new story with Hardy as his broken, reluctant hero, his followers as his antagonists, and some more twists I won’t spoil. This is the classic stuff I love from Williamson–the stuff that made the Scream film series so good and why Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods was successful and fun. We have all seen the evil serial killer and the broken hero dance; The Following attempts something new, which is why I think this show has incredible potential along with some great talent that definitely merits the viewing of drama/horror fans.
As a side note, this show had the unfortunate luck of debuting in the wake of all the school, and public shootings, instantly making it a target by the media and overzealous watch dog groups (won’t some think of the children types, seriously they exist still) for glorifying violence on television. I fall into the camp that believes, with some studies backing this belief, that violent media or violence in media whether it be film, TV, music, books, or video games does not cause violence in public. Correlation does not mean causation. That said, this show does have some violent content with some explicit violence and gory scenes with dead bodies. However no more so than any Law and Order or Criminal Minds or even CSI. It’s just that those shows have the benefit of airing at 10 p.m. rather than The Following’s 9 p.m. air time. So if you are really squeamish about blood or death this show may freak you out a bit.