The series premiere of Fox's "The Following" begins on Monday, January 21, 2013 @ 9 PM ET.
The initial reviews to this have ranged from positive to downright awful, but it's Kevin Bacon's big foray into series television, and he's been a sought-after commodity for a long time to headline a scripted series.
Filmed in Atlanta (pilot) and New York by OuterBanks Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producers, Kevin Williamson, Marcos Siega; producer, Hilton Smith; director, Siega; writer, Williamson.
"The Following" is extremely well done, terrifically cinematic and, from a political standpoint, terribly ill timed—not just featuring a charismatic serial killer and his equally homicidal cult-like followers, but in later episodes including an uncomfortable subplot involving a child. Still, if you're going to play on (or near) cable turf—and that appears to be the goal—there's no pulling punches, and exec producer Kevin Williamson delivers a full-throttle ride that, four episodes in, proves twisty, unpredictable, and tense. Weighing those assets against the unrelenting grimness, the series deserves its own loyal following, despite qualms about its durability.
Add episodic TV to Kevin Bacon's list of degrees. He plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who tracked down a Hannibal Lecter-like killer, a charming literary professor named Joe Carroll (a perfectly cast James Purefoy), with an inordinate fondness for Edgar Allan Poe. When Carroll escapes, Hardy is enlisted to help find him, though it gives little away to say Carroll's reach extends well beyond his cell, thanks to the messianic devotion of his followers.
In addition to the other agents who aren't quite sure what to make of the taciturn Hardy, there's Carroll's ex-wife ("Justified's" Natalie Zea), whose presence complicates matters in intriguing ways. Much of that is doled out through judicious flashbacks, filling in backstories for hunter, prey, and other side characters in this gritty melodrama.
Perhaps foremost in a long list of serial-killer cinema, "The Following" brings to mind "Manhunter," Michael Mann's crisp 1986 movie that introduced the Lecter character to the screen before "Silence of the Lambs" moved him front and center. (Given the similarities, whether the resemblance bodes well for NBC's "Hannibal," directly inspired from novelist Thomas Harris' creation, remains to be seen.)
As with most entries in this genre, life is almost absurdly cheap—and given the timing, perhaps too cheap. Still, about all Fox can do with the show at this point is slap a disclaimer on it, make clear this is very edgy stuff and hope the program finds the right audience, in sufficient numbers.
Based on the promos, the network clearly sees Bacon as the principal draw, and he's fine as the world-weary investigator. Still, Purefoy—whose mixture of charm and malevolence dates back to "Rome" for stateside viewers—steals virtually every scene he's in as the brilliant psychopath, whose ability to seduce, even through prison bars, is a pivotal aspect of the plot.
As tightly constructed as the early episodes are, a skeptic will no doubt ask how this premise can be sustained beyond its initial season, much less forevermore, and it's a fair question—especially since the detectives often seem to be several moves behind the bad guys in the opening chapters. Darkness has its place, but outright bleakness can be a tough sell, especially for mass consumption.
Despite such reservations, Williamson's creation (directed by Marcos Siega) is so cleverly executed there's a desire to cut the show some slack, prepare some Fava beans to accompany a nice Chianti, and see just how far the producers can take this conceit—letting the chips fall where they may. So for now, "Following," lead on.
Camera, Ramsey Nickell; production designer, Ruth Ammon; editor, Joshua Butler; music, John Frizzell; casting, Greg Orson, Lesli Gelles-Raymond. 60 MIN.
Review: Kevin Bacon helps make “The Following” worth following
The actor plays a former FBI agent tracking an escaped serial killer (James Purefoy). It can be disturbingly violent but is well made.
by Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
January 21, 2013, 5:00 a.m.
In Fox's bloody new drama "The Following," Kevin Bacon plays one of the more oft-used characters in thriller fiction. Alcoholic and emotionally detached, his character is former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who has never quite recovered from his dance with the devil.
Once upon a time, Hardy was the lead agent on a string of grisly murders at the fictional Winslow College. When he first encountered Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), he too fell under the charismatic English professor's spell, using him as a source to help unravel the literary clues left at the crime scenes.
Though Hardy comes to realize Carroll is his man, he has no proof until he almost fatally catches the killer in the act. After writing a book about his experience, Hardy finds himself adrift, unable to reconstruct his life without its defining relationship. So when the call comes that Carroll has escaped prison, Hardy greets the FBI's request for aid with both dread and relief.
It's hardly a new story; two angels, bright and dark, battle for humanity. A similar thread was followed on the BBC's "Sherlock," in which criminal mastermind James Moriarty, played with chirping malevolence by Andrew Scott, orchestrated a series of crimes simply to get Sherlock's (Benedict Cumberbatch) attention. "Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain," he tells Sherlock. "You need me, or you're nothing."
But Kevin Williamson's story in "The Following" is tricked out with enough narrative and casting bling to warrant the huge push Fox has given it. If Bacon, and Purefoy, weren't enough of a draw, the urge to kill is framed within the rubric of Edgar Allan Poe's work, lending the whole enterprise an artistic gravitas usually reserved for period dramas (see "Ripper Street"). There's also the added benefit of a mini-poetry tutorial, but the fact that Poe, with "Murders in the Rue Morgue," invented detective fiction is oddly not mentioned, at least in early episodes.
Which keeps the story very much fictional, High Serial Killer drama rather than true-crime.
It's also highly, at times disturbingly, violent, particularly in the pilot.
If "The Following" had premiered in the fall, its level of butchery (Carroll has a thing for eyes, and it's not a good thing) would have been duly noted, then quickly lost in a louder conversation about Bacon's television series starring debut, the creepy-cool premise of a poetry-obsessed death cult, and our unwavering passion for serial killers and their pursuers.
But Fox chose to give "The Following" a midseason premiere, which makes it the first violent big show to open since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary where an actual psychotic killer, without charismatic literary trappings or haunted nemesis, murdered 26 people, including 20 children, in minutes. The shootings re-ignited a long-smoldering conversation about the culture of violence in America, during which the pro-gun lobby pointed fingers at Hollywood and Hollywood pointed fingers right back.
With every third show a police procedural, it's pointless to deny that violence rules on television—people are murdered with alarming regularity every night, often in quite gruesome ways. Fox's "Bones" regularly wallows in gore, albeit typically post-mortem, and the brutalized, and mostly female, corpses of CBS' "CSI" and "Criminal Minds" have been criticized for years.
It isn't fair to ask Williamson, or Fox, to answer for every story in which violence is used to heighten drama or a killer is ascribed an unsympathetic personality; this show has simply pulled the short straw. Not that it's Williamson's first time at the blood-bath rodeo either. He wrote the "Scream" films, basing them, and "The Following" on his fascination with the 1990 slaughter of five students at the University of Florida.
Indeed, on the Fox website, a promo for the show includes Williamson talking about the disappointment he felt when that killer turned out to be a drifter, because "wouldn't it be better if it had been this charismatic professor?" Well, no, Kevin, it would have been "better" if these young women were alive. But we see your point.
There is a definite post-"Saw" ethos to "The Following," but what makes its violence so noteworthy, besides the timing, is the quality of the show. It is a Very Big Deal that Bacon has come to television; anyone who saw his performance as the self-loathing pedophile in 2004's "The Woodsman" knows that when a story goes dark, Bacon does not mess around. He may be playing a familiar character, but he plays the heck out of him.
Purefoy as Carroll is no slouch either; he creates a villain so seductive he doesn't have to leave his jail cell to continue his killing spree. Carroll's work is being honored by a group of psycho students through the Internet. (We always knew Facebook was a bad idea.)
As Williamson and many of his violent-prone peers have said in recent weeks, they are storytellers, and the best ones deal with the things we love and fear, with our often-conflicted feelings about who we really are and what we are capable of, on both ends of the spectrum. Which is why murder mysteries remain the most universally popular genre in virtually any medium and we were all kind of happy that Hannibal Lecter escaped at the end of "The Silence of the Lambs."
Like Williamson, we chafe against the notion that evil is banal. Random, inexplicable acts of brutality are impossible to understand, so difficult to bear. With stories like "The Following," in which we pit one flawed face of humanity against the other, we are literally trying to connect the dots.
"The Following" intensifies that trope by having Hardy get romantically involved with Carroll's ex-wife—the same woman can love both men—and by grimly wading through not just the brutal nature of murder but the psychosis of its perpetrators. Running alongside the Hardy-Carroll narrative is a B-plot about groupthink; the band of Carroll's acolytes, which includes a breakout performance by Valorie Curry as the lone female and alpha-follower, provides the most chilling moments of the show.
In them we see every crime committed by young people fueled as much by the simple adrenaline of belonging as evil, and that, more than Purefoy's malicious genius, is the mayhem we live with and truly fear.
The Bottom Line: No matter how you slice it, you won’t find a quality cable series hiding inside this gory drama.
9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21 (Fox)
Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Annie Parisse
The Fox series from Kevin Williamson turns up the violence but falls short of gritty, cable-quality writing.
Of course Fox couldn’t have known that a mass murder of schoolchildren—where the motives were unknowable—would shock the nation not long before the release of its series about a mass murderer and, well, a whole bunch of his followers, who continue to spill blood all over the place while the captured killer sits in prison.
“The Following,” which premieres Jan. 21, was in production long before that. But Fox always has been keen on the fact that the shocking amount of blood and violence in “The Following” is earning the show—prematurely, lazily, and incorrectly—comparisons to gritty cable fare. That means there’s tacit approval from Fox that slashing up women (and a few men along the way), carving their eyes out and letting the blood roll down into the gutter is acceptable.
That’s where it might be misjudging the mood of the country.
Beyond that misstep, the problem with simply trying to shock people with gratuitous, relentless carnage is that CBS has been goring it up for ages with its excessively dark, corrosive drama “Criminal Minds,” and that’s never been touted as edgy like cable.
Has anyone ever said that by taking things a step too far with butchery and murder, “Criminal Minds” is kind of like an HBO show?
Nope. “Criminal Minds” is just a show that most people, including ex-star Mandy Patinkin, believe is ruinously violent, not some grand piece of art. As Patinkin told New York magazine: “The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do ‘Criminal Minds’ in the first place. I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”
Patinkin should be happy he’s not Kevin Bacon, the big-name star of “The Following” who sees enough blood to make a “Dexter” fan cringe—and that’s just in the pilot. Bacon, taking on his first primetime television role, was a good get for Fox, particularly because he could have landed a cable series of his choosing. And maybe Fox is allowing rivers of blood to run in “The Following,” from creator Kevin Williamson, because the Bacon-and-blood combo platter will be all cable-like. Certainly, Fox is intimately aware that the show will raise eyebrows—oooh, how daring!—and that it will generate buzz for midseason.
That’s fine, as long as no one is fooled into thinking “The Following” is as creatively excellent as a top-notch cable show. It’s not even close. If you try to make your show like a cable series by ratcheting up the gore, you’re missing the point. Truly great cable series are well-written, avoid dubious plot choices, limit exposition, and refrain from beating the viewer about the head with the Club of Obviousness.
Guess what “The Following” does? Yes, all of that (except the well-written thing).
Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who tracked down and caught Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a serial killer who mutilated and murdered 14 women. Hardy himself took a knife in the heart and now has the scars, physical and emotional, to show for it. However, Carroll has busted out of prison, and the FBI believes that Hardy—who wrote a best-selling book on Carroll—can help track him down before he kills again.
But that’s not Carroll’s ultimate endgame. He wants revenge on Hardy in a subversively psychological way. He wants his twisted acolytes, who follow him like a cult leader (Charlie Manson much?) to write their own “chapters” by killing in his stead. Apparently, there’s a crazy amount of people willing to do this, thus the paranoia-generating sensation of the series that anyone around you could kill you at any moment. Especially if they get a phone call that tells them to do it.
How can Carroll control so many people (beyond the fact that Purefoy is pretty darned charming with his British accent)? Well, FBI cult specialist Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) believes he’s aided by modernity. OK, more specifically, the fact that everyone is plugged into the web. No, really: “There’s this pathology to today’s info-bred minds. There’s a vacancy in our humanity.”
Unplug and hug, people, or pretty soon you’ll fall prey to some magnetic and charming mass murderer who wants you to write Edgar Allan Poe verse all over your naked body. After that, you’ll be out writing your “chapter” of death.
If you like book metaphors, especially ones that fall on you like a pallet of anvils, you’ll love “The Following.” See, Carroll was an English professor obsessed with Poe—and, perhaps more so, Poe’s notion that there’s a special beauty in death. Or as Parker, the FBI cult specialist with a minor in religious nuttery, translates: “The only way to truly live is to kill. Or some crap like that.”
Ah, crap. Yes. There is a pattern there.
Poor Poe. His reputation as a romancer of death, a lover of the macabre, and the writer of “The Raven” is used as a blunt instrument of torture in “The Following.” How? By having Williamson hit viewers repeatedly and excessively over the head with the theme until they’re bloody and unconscious—Poe, “Raven,” Poe, beauty of death, “Raven” quotes, bloody eyes, Poe, “nevermore,” ravens, more Poe quotes and Poe/”Raven” connections. Oh, for Christ’s sake, we get it. Now uncrush our heads.
For all the hoopla about Bacon coming to primetime television, it's not like he leaves much of an indelible mark. His acting is fine, but his presence doesn't grip you like the traditional best actor nominees—Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, etc. Part of it might be the role. Bacon's a downbeat, wounded ex-agent with drinking problem, so it's not like he's throwing off sparks. And yet, you wish he were more like Timothy Olyphant (“Justified”), who is magnetic when laconic. Again, much of this is the fault of the writing. Bacon's not getting much to work with.
If Fox is thinking "cable" in its dreamy head, the result isn't replicated visually. “The Following” looks like a slick broadcast series, period. It doesn't have any regional feel (“Breaking Bad,” “Justified”), isn't reliant on distinctive costuming (“Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones”) and has none of that instant distinction an expensive, detail-oriented cable series might provide (“Boardwalk Empire”). It looks, again, like a network show.
Anyway, this is not to suggest that “The Following” is not scary. It’s plenty scary. Somebody evil is forever outwitting the police, materializing out of thin air, stabbing other people, usually in a place (neck, eyes, etc.) where buckets of blood will splash out. Being killed by knife is a rougher deal than taking a bullet, and all the victims in this show really make you feel like it hurts like hell. (In fairness, it’s not all knives; one person is doused with gasoline and lit on fire while he’s trying to buy a hot dog from the corner stand. On the other hand, that same killer later stabs someone four or five times—and tells the dying man that he’s the first person he’s killed with a knife.)
It also hurts like hell to think that someone might confuse excess with art. If you want some scares and “Criminal Minds”-level inspired sickness, you will find that in “The Following.” But no matter how you slice it, you won’t find a quality cable series hiding inside.
USA TODAY review: * * * 1/2 stars (out of four stars)
“The Following” is the most frightening series ever made by a commercial broadcast network
It's done well, but Fox's violent murder series is all about attracting young guys.
You knew eventually the broadcast networks would follow where cable leads.
Oh, not toward a serious, demanding drama like “Mad Men”; that Emmy standard-bearer may win awards, but it draws too few viewers to interest broadcast executives. No, what they're feeling is a more primal, visceral attraction: the constant threat of violence and outbursts of gore that propel “The Walking Dead” and have made it a magnet for the young, male audience their advertisers so desire.
And so Fox brings us “The Following,” one of the most violent, and certainly the most frightening, series ever made by a commercial broadcast network. In the first four episodes made available for preview, people are dispatched in any number of gruesome ways by dispatchers who engage in a peculiarly perverse form of blood lust—and who instill the palpable fear that something even worse could happen to anyone at any moment.
Like all crime shows, “The Following” is in essence a battle of good vs. evil. The twist in this well-told, well-acted story is that good is damaged and faltering and evil is clever and deeply depraved—and for now, winning the battle.
Making a welcome debut as the lead of a TV series, Kevin Bacon stars as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent famed for capturing serial killer Joe Carroll (“Rome”'s James Purefoy)—whose signature style of evisceration included removing his victims' eyes, sometimes while they were still alive. For Hardy, the price of that capture was a stab wound, a pacemaker, and alcohol-fueled guilt over his affair with Carroll's wife (“Justified”'s Natalie Zea), which is why he's a former agent.
Carroll, however, has escaped from prison—and Hardy has been called back to help recapture him. As if a deranged murderer on the loose weren't terrifying enough, Carroll has gathered followers, uniting them around his cult-like worship of Edgar Allan Poe and using them to rewrite the ending of his own story.
Thus begins this Poe-infused contest. On one side, you have Hardy, a young agent who worships him (Shawn Ashmore), and a cult expert (Annie Parisse) who's not sure he can be trusted. On the other—well, outside of Carroll, it's not fair to tell you who's on the other side, as his followers' identities are some of the show's best revealed surprises.
The driving creative force behind “The Following” is Kevin Williamson, who proved he knows horror in “Scream” and something about the mechanics of stretching out a TV soap in “Dawson's Creek.” He doesn't always play fair; some plot twists seem implausible at best, others are overdone or gratuitous. But some implausibility comes with the horror/suspense genre, and there's no question Williamson has mastered it—just as there's no question that the match of wills between the wounded Bacon and malevolent Purefoy is exceedingly well played.
Whether it's a game you want to see played is a different matter. Some may grow tired of following a hero who always seems to be a crucial step behind, while others will be uncomfortable with the joy the show seems to take in mayhem.
For “The Following,” it's not enough to simply slit a throat; we have to see the victim bleed out on the floor. Nor is it just the explicit violence: There's a scene involving a child and a mouse that is as warped as any you'll see this year.
Whether you let your own child see it is up to you, though I can't help hoping the answer is "no." Still, if what you want for yourself is a network series that will effectively and efficiently chill you to the bone, here it is.
Review: FOX's “The Following” an empty horror exercise
Kevin Bacon chases a charismatic but cliched serial killer in new drama from Kevin Williamson
by Alan Sepinwall Friday, Jan 18, 2013
Kevin Williamson has forgotten more about horror than I'll ever learn. His scripts for both the big screen ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") and small ("Dawson's Creek") are overflowing with a love of popular culture and horror stories in particular. His movie debut, 1996's "Scream," breathed new life into a thoroughly played-out genre by making a slasher movie where all the characters were aware they were in a slasher movie, and of the rules that govern such a story.
His new FOX drama "The Following" (it debuts Monday night at 9) is informed by Williamson's devotion to another kind of horror story: tales of charismatic, omniscient serial killers, particularly as popularized by "Silence of the Lambs" and the other Hannibal Lecter films. But here, the tone is deadly serious throughout. It's a series riddled with clichés, but without anyone to point them out along the way.
Kevin Bacon, following his wife Kyra Sedgwick's path to television, plays Ryan Hardy, an FBI agent forced into retirement after being wounded apprehending Joe Carroll (James Purefoy from "Rome"), a literature professor turned serial killer who murdered young women as a salute to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. In the series' opening moments, Carroll escapes from prison, leaving another trail of blood in his wake, and Hardy is awoken from an alcoholic slumber to help catch him—and, it turns out, the many followers he inspired and trained during his incarceration.
So it's basically Hannibal Lecter as cult leader, only if Lecter were somehow more pretentious and less charming (the downgrade from Anthony Hopkins to Purefoy), constantly dropping Poe references in an attempt to seem deeper and more meaningful than he actually is—or than "The Following" actually is.
Williamson and his writers attempt to examine the motivations behind Carroll and his acolytes, but they usually amount to some combination of name-dropping and psycho-babble, like this absolute hum-dinger of a monologue from the second episode, delivered by Annie Parisse as one of Hardy's new FBI pals:
"Carroll's using Poe's work as a religion. He's speaking to people through Gothic Romanticism. There's a pathology to today's Internet techno-bred minds. He's created a vacancy in our humanity. Find the ones with additional disorders, jackpot. Enter a handsome, charismatic man who can touch them, make them feel their lives for the first time. He conditions them. The only way to truly live is to kill."
Parisse plays it self-deprecating—she concludes the speech by saying, "Or some crap like that"—but it's clearly meant to be a brilliant insight into this man, and the state of a society that breeds others like him. But it's just gibberish, there to try to justify the quantity and quality of baroque acts of violence without really saying anything about why we're really fascinated by characters like Lecter, John Doe from "Se7en" or Dexter Morgan. "The Following" plays at examining both the pathology of these killers and the tropes of their stories—Carroll announces that he's writing a new book based on these events, and begins breaking Hardy and others down into character types—but mainly it seems to take delight in depicting the extremes to which Carroll and his followers will go.
I'm not saying that Williamson is obligated to turn every horror story he tells into a deconstruction of the genre, nor a PhD thesis about the pathology of serial killers and those who love them (with or without "today's Internet techno-bred minds"). But the hollowness of "The Following" means that the only thing there is to focus on is the actual storytelling, and it's lacking.
At the Television Critics Association press tour earlier this month, Williamson referred to "24" (which used to air in this timeslot) as "my favorite show of all time," and you can definitely see some of that show's DNA here—specifically in the way that other than Ryan Hardy himself, virtually any character at any time can be revealed to be a mole trained by Joe Carroll. And the problem is that when anyone can be a surprising villain, then no one actually is. Seemingly trustworthy figures pop out of the shadows so often brandishing a gun, knife, or nastier death implement (Carroll's signature is putting out his young female victim's eyes with an icepick) that it becomes wearying—if not comical—after a few episodes.
The weary gravity of Bacon's performance holds things together to a point, and the one deviation from cliché that the series takes is in making Hardy a man whose problem is identifying too deeply with the victims—"The kill makes it personal, you unravel," he's told—when the usual gimmick is that the profiler learns to think too much like the killer. Bacon alone kept me watching at least an episode longer than I otherwise might have.
We're in the middle of a boom of serial killer-driven television. "Criminal Minds" shows no sign of going away anytime soon. "Dexter" is more popular than ever. NBC has an actual Hannibal Lecter series coming up later this year, and A&E is debuting "Bates Motel," a "Psycho" prequel series about the young Norman Bates, in March. There's an unending fascination for this kind of show—or related gore like AMC's wildly popular "The Walking Dead"—and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if "The Following" were a big, bloody hit for FOX.
But success and quality don't always neatly overlap, and "The Following" is a show that's disturbing without actually being scary, and that approaches deep, dark subjects without having anything real to say about them. Williamson may have put thought into what this show is about, but what comes across on screen is an empty exercise in fetishizing the charismatic evil of serial killers.
“The Following”: Season One * * ½ stars (out of four stars)
by Mike LeChevallier on January 20, 2013
In a manner of duplicity that suits its alternating themes of unfulfilled desire and destruction, “The Following” begins as exceedingly pedestrian and evolves into something deeper. Former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is summoned out of retirement to track down a dangerous perp who he had already put behind bars nearly a decade ago: an enigmatic, showy, and highly intelligent serial killer named Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), whose overly romanticized butcherings are a tribute to the sordid narratives of Edgar Allan Poe. At the start of the series premiere, Carroll escapes from prison to finalize the one murder Hardy stopped him from bringing to fruition. This initial premise feels phoned-in and slightly stock, with only a couple of quick-jolt, ultra-violent scares inserted to spice up the proceedings.
Yet, by the end of the episode, “The Following” reveals itself to be more than another prolonged, veteran-cop-versus-sophisticated-psychopath procedural. The show's creator, Kevin Williamson, who penned the script, does a respectable job of slowly luring in viewers with a commonplace but altogether atmospheric and well-paced homicide drama until he veers off the expected course by having the show's Big Bad surprisingly recaptured at the conclusion of the pilot. By keeping its main villain incarcerated for an extended period of time, “The Following” is unable to write itself into been-there-done-that plot corners by having Hardy and Carroll play a protracted psychical cat-and-mouse game. Carroll, a literary professor and budding horror author before going to prison, is the mastermind behind a cult of dedicated, disturbed individuals who revere his "death is beautiful" philosophy and carry out horrendous deeds in his stead, thus composing his ultimate piece of melancholy fiction with the blood of innocents.
However, in the face of its intriguing foundation, “The Following” stumbles in one key area: providing believable explanations as to how and why Carroll's unshakable followers are so enamored by him, throwing away their lives in order to annihilate in the name of art and unquenched passion. Purefoy is rather restrained and listless in the role of Carroll, an educated nutjob who isn't prone to the demented outbursts that characterize the most memorable fictitious malefactors; instead the character relies on his menacing, scholarly charm to lure in unstable, potentially vulnerable fanatics. The atrocious extent of Carroll's acolytes' deadly missions, from slaying sorority girls (Carroll's prey of choice) to setting a critic who wrote a scathing review of Carroll's only novel on fire, requires some sort of principal motivation on the part of his brain-washed minions, but it all seems too simplistic—a bunch of lunatics acting as variable surrogates for a much crazier maniac who exhibits the fortitude that they've been afraid to.
Bacon's Hardy is a mixture of the street-smart, exhausted, depressed, alcoholic lawman whose selfless approach to life leaves him alienated and committed to nothing but his occupation. It's a performance that almost always feels sincere, frequently teetering on the edge of triteness, but never toppling over. His best moments are, peculiarly, not when matching wits with Carroll in the interrogation room, but with Carroll's ex-wife, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), and his new field partner, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore). Hardy developed a relationship with Claire while Carroll was imprisoned, and their affair is part of the reason Hardy was placed on leave from the force. They both care intensely for one another, yet Hardy keeps his distance because he feels their connection is a reminder of a difficult stretch in both of their lives. Agent Weston looks up to Hardy and can see that he's a severely damaged man; his kindhearted attempts to break through Hardy's thick shell provide “The Following”'s most emotionally resonant moments.
The series loses some of its drive by its dreary fourth episode, when a labored love triangle between Carroll's disciples mars the overall flow of the central arc. After the disorganized trio kidnaps Claire's ridiculously gullible son, Joey (Kyle Catlett), and holes up at a bucolic ranch in the middle of nowhere, the subplot—which deals heavily with the repressed homosexual tendencies of two straight men who posed as a gay couple for years in order to monitor Carroll's final victim, which in itself is an homage to the buried truths of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"—becomes a bit draggy, distracting from the primary action with Hardy and exuding the pace of the much-maligned farm storyline from “The Walking Dead”'s second season. Until that point, though, “The Following” is mostly engaging, even if it never truly substantiates its antagonist's godlike stature in the eyes of his worshipers.
Details: Start Date: Jan 21, 2013; Genre: Thriller; With: Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy; Network: Fox
Writer-Producer Kevin Williamson played horror for giggles in “Scream,” but the horrors of a serial killer get the grim treatment on “The Following,” a drama that makes the most of gaunt-faced star Kevin Bacon. The actor is ripe for a television series: He's in his mid-50s, and he's got the trim, wiry body of someone at least a decade younger; he's become the Iggy Pop of soulful acting.
As former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, Bacon plays a man whose life was pretty much ruined by his successful pursuit of Joe Carroll, James Purefoy's charismatic killer. At the start of the show, Hardy is a lonely wraith who subsists on vodka and regret, but when Carroll escapes he's pulled back into FBI action and forced to confront his nemesis again. Even once Carroll is safely back in prison, he is so persuasive that he all but sends out zapping brain-commands to zealous fans—the cult referenced in the title—who commit crimes as acts of devotion to their idol.
The weakest part of “The Following” is the idea that Carroll was a college professor who held his classes spellbound with lectures about Thoreau, Emerson, and, most crucially, Edgar Allan Poe. His disciples leave Poe-related clues at the scenes of their crimes, such as scrawling the word nevermore in blood on a wall, so that Hardy can yell triumphantly, '''The Raven'!'' But the flashbacks to Carroll's classroom talks barely rise to high-school-level discourse; the show makes it seem as though no one had ever heard of ''The Tell-Tale Heart'' or ''The Black Cat.''
The drama's strongest elements override this flaw. Both Bacon and Purefoy are so intensely earnest, “The Following” quickly supersedes its patent “Silence of the Lambs” setup. The moments that focus on Carroll's criminal cult give the series its real power, and the modern-day variations on Charlie Manson's kill-crazy crew are genuinely spooky. Williamson recently told EW that one of his favorite TV shows is “24,” and a plot revolving around Carroll's family has a similar ticktock timed-suspense aspect. But Bacon's Hardy is no Jack Bauer; he's an aspiring alcoholic with a pacemaker—a telltale heart-warmer of a guy who tries to come off as cold and aloof. He doesn't fool us for a moment, though, and that's why we end up caring about this screwed-up hero and his mission to keep us safe from, and interested in, what would otherwise be merely the umpteenth serial killer in pop culture.
The aftermath of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School is probably not the best time to start a new series about a serial killer with a murderous cult. “The Following,” which begins Monday on Fox, has already become a reference point in the debate about violence in entertainment.
Fox executives defend the show by saying that its depictions of homicide are no more gruesome than those on shows like “Criminal Minds,” “CSI,” or “The Mentalist.” And while that is arguably true, it doesn’t really help the case. The difference lies in the way murder is presented.
“The Following,” which stars Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy, a burned-out former F.B.I agent, is one of the most disturbing procedural dramas on television, in its own way creepier than similar network shows and even cable series like “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad” or “The Walking Dead.”
It’s hard to turn off and even harder to watch.
And it could be that precisely because it is so bleak and relentlessly scary, “The Following” offers a more salutary depiction of violence than do series that use humor to mitigate horror—and thereby trivialize it.
CBS has a formula for making crime dramas viewer-friendly. Most of its shows blunt the impact of mutilated corpses and revolting autopsy procedures with almost cartoonish comic relief, usually the banter of good-looking investigators or a wackily eccentric computer nerd who prattles while doing all the Internet legwork. Cable, which has to offer something different, inverts the formula, creating villains who are amusing or intriguingly self-aware even while their crimes are terrifying, be it the serial killer with a soul on “Dexter” (Showtime) or the high school teacher turned meth dealer on “Breaking Bad” (AMC).
Shows that traffic in the supernatural or fantasy have a built-in disclaimer. Hideous things happen on every episode of “The Walking Dead” (AMC) or “Game of Thrones” (HBO), but most viewers know that zombies don’t exist in real life, and that knights and priestesses are really found only in the Middle Ages or Middle-earth.
Serial killers may be more rare than television pretends, but they do exist, and every now and then a Ted Bundy emerges who almost fits the television phenotype of brilliant, charismatic psychopath.
In that sense “The Following” doesn’t offer an original villain, merely a variation on a familiar model. Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is a charming professor of literature and expert on Edgar Allan Poe who is also a serial killer so captivating that even from afar he can persuade his acolytes to kill strangers, or even stab themselves in the eye. His followers are all over, and some are embedded so innocuously into normal life as friends and neighbors that nobody would ever suspect they are carrying out a mission of ritual murder by proxy.
Horrible things happen in the pilot, and the only release from the intensity and suspense is during commercials.
“The Following” doesn’t blink and go cute like so many network dramas, but it also isn’t quite as anarchic as cable or movies.
Ryan is not a nonchalant bon vivant like the hero of “The Mentalist” or the investigators on “NCIS”; he is a washed-out, used-up, retired agent who drinks vodka out of a water bottle to get through the day.
And Carroll is not a villain whom viewers are likely to love à la Al Swearengen of “Deadwood” or Hannibal Lecter. Carroll can be charming when playing the role of professor, but behind bars he isn’t wittily disarming; he is a thuggish bully with soulless eyes.
Carroll’s obsession with Poe gets a little silly, especially when characters use literary exegesis to decipher clues. (The raven, one says, symbolizes “the finality of death.”) But there is nothing funny or arch about “The Following.”
Like so many prime-time shows it traffics in gruesome depictions of death, but it also takes its violence seriously. And that’s not such a bad thing these days.
Fox, Monday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.
Produced by Warner Brothers Television, Outerbanks Entertainment and Bonanza Productions. Created and written by Kevin Williamson; directed by Marcos Siega; Mr. Williamson and Mr. Siega, executive producers.
WITH: Kevin Bacon (Ryan Hardy), James Purefoy (Joe Carroll), Natalie Zea (Claire Matthews), Annie Parisse (F.B.I. Specialist Debra Parker), Shawn Ashmore (Agent Mike Weston), Valorie Curry (Denise), Adan Canto (Billy Thomas), Nico Tortorella (Will Wilson), and Kyle Catlett (Joey Matthews).
Synopsis: In the series premiere, former FBI agent, Ryan Hardy is called out of retirement to track down former literature professor and charismatic serial killer Joe Carroll after he escapes from prison; Hardy soon discovers that Carroll has an ever-growing cult of followers that assist him in his expansive carnage.
OK, I just got finished with episode 1. There were some good moments in it, but the whole conspiracy of followers thing made me eye roll a bit. Not sure what I feel yet. I don't love it yet, but I didn't hate the pilot.
FYC Emmys: The Good Wife, in everything; Cicely Tyson "The Trip to Bountiful"; "(Do It On My) Twin Bed" - Best Original Song
This was a thrilling pilot episode. Slick direction from Marcos Siega. I haven't been this antsy over watching a first episode of a series in a long time, possibly ever. I can see where the critics are coming from with the show's excessive violence/gore element, and with the incredibly unfortunate timing of arriving right after Sandy Hook when it didn't have to, it's just asking for trouble in many respects, and said trouble is already brewing. I can buy into most of the premise so far, and there's a lot that can be done with this cult of serial killer "followers" over time. One thing I didn't like was the odd instinct the episode had not to trust in its audience. Usually Kevin Williamson is better than that in his writing, but there were key times all through this where things were either explained or clarified when they didn't need to be. When Ryan had his "Eureka!" moment with the "Nevermore" quote on the garage wall and made a point to tell everyone around him about it, I thought to myself, since all of them made it through the seventh grade, they'll likely know it's referencing "The Raven," especially since you also lectured the group about Carroll's obsession with Poe in an eariler scene. I guess this element is only going to get worse since these critics sampled the first four episodes. Maybe this is a reality of a post-"The Killing" television landscape where plots have to be spelled out to the audience and not go against viewer expectations too much or at all. Kevin Bacon was a strong anchor throughout. It's easy to sell Ryan's world-weariness through Bacon, and as a first series television venture, I think he's going to nail it. It might never reach Emmy level for him, but I didn't think that "24" was Emmy level in the beginning either until it was, and that series seems to be Williamson's model here. Bacon can be nodded all the same though on name recognition and submit this episode to be competitive in lead actor in a drama series. Natalie Zea made a nice first impression too. There's some interesting backstory between their characters that could play out well in the coming weeks. I also liked the younger partner guy that looks up to Ryan as a legend. But then there's James Purefoy, who came off as Hannibal Lecter lite with far lesser charisma and wit. The last series I saw him in was "Rome," and he rocked it there, so he's as capable as anybody to pull off this villain role with the right material. I did like his last interrogation scene with Kevin Bacon. And poor Maggie Grace. I was hoping she'd have a solid supporting role with this. I already liked her more here than practically all of her time on "Lost." Despite some initial speedbumps, I thought this ended up being both unnerving and compulsively watchable. I'm in for more episodes.
I liked the Pilot, but I'm not sold on the supporting cast. LOVE Kevin Bacon though. This thing has potential, and there's nothing else like it on broadcast TV. Bad timing might be its only downfall (if there is one). I think we'll know pretty quickly if this show has potential. Fox needs a hit drama FAST.
OK, I just got finished with episode 1. There were some good moments in it, but the whole conspiracy of followers thing made me eye roll a bit. Not sure what I feel yet. I don't love it yet, but I didn't hate the pilot.
It's a little hard to swallow, but at the same time is an added twist from the usual serial killer formula. I'm buying in for now. I thought the pilot was good, quite good for network fare, but it doesn't feel like a player in the awards circuit other than Kevin Bacon.