TV Review - The Following

Kyra Sedgwick ended her cop show The Closer this past year. Now, her husband Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13 and Mystic River) starts his own cop show The Following. Except, Bacon's character, Ryan Hardy, isn't just a cop. He's a former FBI agent who almost a decade ago helped to catch Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy (Bedrooms and Hallways and HBO's Rome). Joe is a former literature professor who murdered 14 young women. Joe learns that Ryan had an affair with his ex-wife, Claire Matthews, played by Natalie Zea (Dirty Sexy Money and Justified), so, for nearly a decade in the Virginia State Penitentiary, Joe concocts a plan to get revenge on Ryan and Claire, as well as continue his spree of serial killing, which he perceives as his art.

Kevin Williamson created the show. Williamson is the writer of the horror film Scream (1996), which introduced the idea of smart, intelligent people teaming up to coordinate serial killing in a smart and intelligent way. The movie spawned three sequels but in any of them, the serial killing team was never more than two people.

There have been other films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) or House of 1000 Corpses (2003) or The Strangers (2008) that have dealt with a group of more than two murderers working together or even a family of murderers, but often the murderers in those movies act in wild and unpredictable ways. Williamson's murderers always act with college-level ingenuity. Independent filmmaker Anthony Spadaccini addressed similarly intelligent and coordinated murderers in Post-Mortem (2010), but there's never been this kind of portrayal before.

The basic idea is that Joe Carroll has developed a cult of serial killers. He's crafted his own philosophy based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. A few of the people in his cult were students he taught. Others, I assume, were admirers of his book, weak-minded or prone to murder prior to Joe charming them. The horror comes with not knowing how extensive Joe's cult is. Every episode seems to expose a new member of the cult and someone who is willing to kill in Joe Carroll's name. His proxies stump and threaten Ryan and the FBI at every turn.

This isn't a whodunit. The mystery isn't derived from identifying who else is in the cult. Those will be scary surprises that pop up along the way. For Joe, it's all a sadistic game. Being that Ryan is a pawn or rook, the series becomes a sadistic game as well. I suppose one could compare it to Dexter in as much as that character revels in the taking of human life.

At least, Dexter has somewhat of a moral stance when it comes to its murders. Williamson puts the audience in the shoes and point-of-view of the cult members. Some are out-and-out psychopaths and brutal murderers. Neither can engender any kind of sympathy. Homeland was able to draw a little sympathy in its first season for a terrorist. Here, Williamson gives us nothing with which to sympathize over these cult members, as he probably shouldn't, but the question has to be asked of what's gained from putting us in their shoes.

Williamson plays a sick, soap opera-like, love triangle between two men who may or may not be gay and a female, early cult member. In the third episode, a lot of attention is paid to this love triangle, but, besides the tawdry nature, there's nothing to care about here. It's obvious by what happens that the rivalries and jealousies within the triangle are going to lead to their eventual downfall. That intrigue might be more interesting if the writers gave more substance about Joe's ideology, how he recruited these people and why the two gay men, for example, joined. Some lip service is given but it's not enough.

This show seems more concerned with the blood and the bullets than any meaning of the words behind Poe's writing. It wants to pay homage to Edgar Allan Poe without actually reading his works and comprehending any point he actually made.

I guess we should just accept that these are people who like to kill. It's just something with which they're born like in Dexter. While the narrative that the show is currently employing is exciting and has a ticking clock that pushes urgency, how these people come together and why is the more compelling aspect. Yet, the show hasn't given us real meat on that front.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-LV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 9PM on FOX.


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