Spring 2013 Review: The Following

6 Mar

The Following

The Following is at its heart a cat and mouse game between a crazy sociopathic serial killer named Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy) and his troubled FBI nemesis Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon).  Carroll was a charismatic literature professor obsessed with Poe and with killing college-aged women, knocking off over a dozen, before Hardy, who was obsessed with the case (think of Hardy as Jessica Chastain to Carroll’s Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty), managed to crack it, catching Carroll red-handed while saving his last intended victim.

Since Carroll was caught, ten years ago, he’s been in jail, and is sentenced to die soon.  He breaks out of prison at the beginning of The Following’s premiere, with the help of a prison guard he’s seduced into learning to become a serial killer himself.  Carroll then makes a beeline to take care of the only victim he didn’t manage to finish off, who Hardy saved.  Hardy, who has been out of the FBI for years, fighting his own demons, one of which is the bottle, is called back in to help find Carroll, and he’s the foremost expert, having penned a true crime bestseller about his chase for Carroll.

Carroll is rounded up at the end of the first episode and returned to prison after causing lots of damage, but not until it’s learned that in his time supposedly researching his legal appeals, he’s used the internet to round up tens and possibly hundreds of followers, willing to kill for him, die for him, or do any number of insane tasks for the cult of Joe Carroll.  In the first episode alone, it turns out that the gay neighbors and best friends of Sarah Fuller, the last intended victim, are actually cult members, willing to spend three years of their life living as a gay couple just to strike at the moment Carroll got out.  His ex-wife ‘s (Justified’s Natalie Zea) babysitter also turns out to be a cult member.

The Following is created by Kevin Williamson, best known for Dawson’s Creek, the Vampire Diaries, and the Scream series.  The Following is closest out of those to Scream (or Scream copycat I Know What You Did Last Summer, which Williamson also wrote) but without the cheeky meta-humor that was  a hallmark of those films.  There’s none of Scream’s humor in The Following.  It’s not a funny show.  It’s a gory thriller, somewhere along the lines of Seven.  The characters don’t seem particularly well thought out and the cult is pretty ridiculous in the amount that they’re both willing and able to do at the behest of Carroll.  I don’t think there’s likely to be a ton of depth or meaning or themes in this show.  That said, it’s not what the show’s about.  It’s an action thriller, in the vein of former Fox stalwarts 24 and Prison Break, and while I’ll never like a more purely action-oriented show as much as I’ll like Breaking Bad or Mad Men, there’s absolutely room for that type of show on TV.  Thus, if The Following keeps delivering the thrills with plotting that doesn’t seem too farfetched within its own world, it can be successful on its terms.

Repetition is a definite concern looking forward.  It’s a show that seems best designed for an American Horror Story-like single season anthology; I can imagine getting wary after one season of repetitive battles between Hardy and Carroll, knowing neither of them can lose entirely (probably anyway; if Williamson went rogue and killed one of them off at season’s end, it would be a pretty bold and respect-worthy move).  Still, I should at least give Williamson the chance to show that he can avoid seeming repetitive before knocking it.

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.  I was learning towards no at the beginning of the episode, and now I’m slightly leaning towards yes, though it could be a casualty of more spring shows that are better.  It’s flawed and simplistic to some extent; the one on one battle has distinct limits, but as a sheer thriller, some of its flaws take a back seat.  Williamson noted that he brought the show to Fox because his favorite show ever was 24, and I think there’s something that makes sense about that watching The Following.  Like 24, the characters aren’t particularly deep, but if The Following achieves its goals, it keeps you at the edge of your seat every week, and the first episode did a decent job at that.

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