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Fox Brings Home the Bacon – As in Kevin – in ‘The Following’
January 20, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 10 comments
 

Kevin Bacon has been on TV before, from soap operas as a young actor to telemovies as a mature one – but Fox’s The Following is his first turn as a series lead. And he’s excellent…

The Following premieres Monday, Jan. 21, at 9 p.m. ET, in what once would have been thought an unthinkably early hour to televise so violent a drama on broadcast network television. Then again, the violence depicted in The Following would have been unthinkable to broadcast, too.

The creator of The Following is Kevin Williamson, who captured the youth market with two hot franchises: the soapy prime-time TV drama Dawson’s Creek, and, as a screenplay writer of the first installment, the movie series Scream.

But Scream, a send-up of horror movies, played the conventions of that genre for laughs. The Following uses them just as liberally – the walks down dark hallways in empty houses, the propensity to put attractive young people in jeopardy, the maniacal murderers in masks – but, in every instance this time, is serious. Dead serious.

Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who went on disability eight years earlier after apprehending serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy, below, right). Hardy stopped Carroll’s murder spree, but not before Carroll nearly murdered him, too. Hardy retired with a few deep scars, psychological as well as physical, and is a weary and alcohol-addicted soul when The Following begins.

The FBI contacts Hardy because Carroll has escaped from prison, and they want Hardy to consult with young agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) on the case and help recapture the devious Carroll – as well as his Charles Manson-ish gang of followers, who are willing, and eager, to carry on Carroll’s deadly tradition of committing grisly murders to honor Carroll’s literary idol, Edgar Allen Poe.

The Following deserves high points for its strong acting and its ambitious structure. Hardy and Carroll are well-matched adversaries, and the series eventually finds ways of having Bacon and Purefoy share many intense scenes together – think Silence of the Lambs as a weekly TV series. Bacon’s Hardy is very much in the same vein of haunted, obsessed TV protagonists as Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer in 24 and David Janssen’s Richard Kimble in The Fugitive– potent company indeed.

Purefoy has more than enough charisma to explain how he drew and captivated his twisted apostles, and the leading women in The Following grab you, too. That roster includes Maggie Grace from Lost as a surviving victim of Carroll’s, Natalie Zea (below, left) from Justified as Carroll’s ex-wife, and Valorie Curry as the nanny of the Carrolls’ young child.

The structure of the show is almost equally divided between the present-day hunt for Carroll and his cultish killers, and flashbacks from various points in the past eight years that illuminate characters and key moments since Carroll first shifted from passionate literature professor to multiple murderer. If you thought Lost had a lot of time-resetting flashbacks, wait till you see The Following.

And if you do see The Following, arrive with this advance warning. This show is very violent, and not just because of the body count or amount of blood. The Sopranos and Dexter are very violent TV series, too, but not even Dexter, which has a serial killer as its “good guy,” presents its murders as perversely as The Following, or puts children and young women in jeopardy as often.

It’s all a matter of tone. Even the idea of watching a classics-obsessed killer target victims with help from a gleeful band of deadly acolytes has been done before, and brilliantly – in the 1973 horror comedy Theatre of Blood, which starred Vincent Price as a Shakespearean actor who returns from his wrongly presumed death to wreak vengeance on the critics who slammed him in life. And using Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays as inspiration to stage the killings.

The plot of that 40-year-old movie, actually, is amazingly close to the plot of The Following – but Theatre of Blood, like Scream, was played for laughs. The Following isn’t. So in one forthcoming episode, when a critic who panned Carroll’s book is selected as a potential victim, there’s nothing funny about it. Like most of the violence in the first episodes of The Following, it’s presented with glee, almost as a primer.
Most horror movies and TV shows make you squirm because you identify with the victim. The Following, while a better new TV show than anything presented last fall, makes me squirm, most of the time, because it seems to be asking me to identify with the killers.

(For my review of The Following on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, listen to Monday’s show, or visit the Fresh Air website after 5 p.m. ET on January 21.)

 
 
 
 
 
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10 Comments
 
 
FRANK ANTHONY
David couldn't agree with you more, fox brings home the Bacon-as in Kevin- in 'The Following'. One of greatest shows since Keifer in ' 24 '. When a office of approx. 50 employees is swamped with positive feed back and you can't wait for the next episode,tells you how goodit was. Now for the big question,they can't possibly leave us with the ending . Will there be a follow up to where last show ended ???? Also David, keep an eye on ' Bates Motel ' ,alot of possitive feed back at the office.
May 11, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Graham
Y'all are sound like a bunch of TV snobs. David's correct, this show is better than anything this year. Of course it's contrived and a bit icky, but we must judge it by its contemporaries. The forerunner of contrived and icky, Criminal Minds, is far more deserving of scorn. At least the acting here is quite good, and credit where credit is due for giving the antagonist a big, eye-gougey win in the first episode. (That's what you get for quitting Lost in its prime, MG.)
On the whole, I'd give FOX props for taking a risk.
Jan 27, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Vance
Gotta say my eyes wouldn't stop rolling, either. Maybe AMC and HBO have spoiled me, but this is NOT must-see TV. Love Bacon, but this show is a pig in a poke. That means it'll have a solid run on Fox.
Jan 27, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Alan
Alfred Hitchcock would role over in his grave. This premier episode was bad. I did not feel at all on edge. No hairs stood up on my arms or neck. Some of the characters were cartoonish. The writing was not very good.
Jan 26, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Goofball Jones
Continued rant...and more SPOILERS:

Okay, why did the writers pick Poe as the killer's obsession? Poe is a bit obvious, isn't it? Also, Poe is high-school at best...why would this supposed genius english professor even have a class on Poe? Maybe the writers should have just invented a fictional 19th century gothic writer, then they could have thrown in anything they wanted. Poe is just so...pedestrian. I wasn't spooked, and they were trying hard to spook people.

And now, the actual "following" of people that get suckered in by this english professor. Seriously, an english professor? And who else doesn't see that one of the FBI people are also going to be part of The Following too...probably to be revealed on the season finale.

Seriously David, you think this is good television? My eyes rolled so many times while watching it, I thought they were going to detach from their sockets. I guess the Purefoy character would have enjoyed that.
Jan 23, 2013   |  Reply
 
Robert Jenkins
As an English professor, I am in absolute agreement. I was constantly thinking of the line delivered by Ralph at the end of "The Simpsons" spoof on "The Departed"- "It symbolizes obviousness."
Jan 23, 2013
 
 
 
Goofball Jones
Saw it. Sorry, it was very very contrived and not very well-written.

They were trying SO hard to be similar to Silence of the Lambs, but they didn't get there. SPOILER ALERT: Okay, first off, a serial killer is just a human. They don't have super-human strength. They're not supernatural in nature or anything like that. They are just regular human beings. This show isn't trying to be a supernatural thriller where the killer has some power, they're trying to go for realism. Okay, if that's the case, then there is NO way one man could take out 4 guards in the beginning of the show like that guy did. Remember, he didn't have help....as the guard that ultimately helped him and is one of the "Following", wasn't at the prison that day. So that means that the Purefoy character killed them all....all in close proximity to each other....with blood splattering everywhere....and not getting any on himself.....with no one setting off an alarm....See where I'm going with this? It's not plausible.
Jan 23, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Ed Q.
Isn't the premise of this show just Red Dragon? But this time the same serial killer escapes?
Jan 21, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
JJ Goode
I can see the show capturing a big audience. Kevin Bacon definitely deserves it, and he has plenty of fans that work with me here at DISH, too, so we’re all pulling for The Following to become a staple. I know I’ll be saving it all to my DISH Hopper. I no longer have to be picky with my TV lineup like I did with my last DVR, because the Hopper’s hard drive stores up to 2,000 hours of entertainment so I can enjoy everything that TV has to offer.
Jan 20, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
David Marlow
I was utterly stunned by Kevin's performance in "The Woodsman". A must see for any Bacon fan. He's been so mediocre in so many terrible movies. But as he's matured into his own, he sure has been terrific in a lot of really great movies. Looking forward to "The Following", if my delicate Midwestern sensibilities can handle the violence, implied or otherwise.
Jan 20, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Eileen
So happy to read this review. I love Kevin Bacon, and consider him to be one of our most under-appreciated working actors. Back when "The Sixth Sense" was garnering rave reviews & box office receipts, Kevin starred in "A Stir of Echoes" which had the misfortune of being released at the same time. Watch it; it's far scarier than "The Sixth Sense", and Kevin, as usual, is at the top of his game. He is often the background actor, i.e., Mystic River, but he's always a star in my book.
Jan 20, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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