Kevin Williamson is one brilliant and sick man. The mastermind behind the Scream series and CW’s The Vampire Diaries has once again dug into the endless coffers of the horror genre and developed the deliciously wrought new series titled The Following. Given the rise of premium cable television’s grasp on the more boundary pushing shows, it was only a matter of time before basic cable pushed back and it’s clear that Fox is angling to draw both the audiences of American Horror Story and The Shield with this show. Anchored by some incredibly sharp writing, haunting imagery and two dynamite performances by James Purefoy and Jevin Bacon, The Following should more than accomplish this. The pilot tells the story of an FBI agent (Bacon) that finds himself thrust back into the world of hunting serial killers when a mastermind (Purefoy) he put away nine years prior creates a network of copycat killers.
There are so many things I’d love to say about this show but for fear I’ll run into spoiler territory, I’ll just stick to the peripheral stuff. When I saw the pilot during Comic-Con’s preview night I realized very quickly that this show was going to be something that people such as myself and other genre fans, who enjoy cerebral storytelling to along with gore and scares, will thoroughly enjoy. There are a ton of scenes where I was sinking in my chair, looking around as if any second I’d be snatched up by one of the serial killers in this tale; its that scary. It is also the most graphic broadcast cable TV show I’ve ever witnessed with enough mutilation, suicides via household objects, and shooting to last a lifetime, and this is just the pilot.
But The Following‘s unsettling imagery is made all the more potent but the dense writing. While Kevin Williamson mercifully doesn’t dumb everything down for the audience, This pilot packs a lot of information into its one hour running time and while copious flashbacks definitely help establish where the story is at, hopefully the series will be able to streamline the material and information it expects the audience to be able to handle.
Kevin Bacon is a marvel to watch as Ryan Hardy, the FBI agent coming out of retirement to help track down these serial killers. The character of sage detective tracking mad man is a standard archetype, but Bacon is such a great actor that you feel as if this is a completely new characterization. His Agent Hardy is all hard ass exteriors that barely masks an fragile psyche and conscience, and watching Bacon grapple with the complexities of being a Terminator-like figure with a bum ticker is thrilling. Though his interactions with the Purefoy might get most of the acclaim, I found that his scenes with his fellow agents and the women whom he has varying degrees of attachment to be the true delight. It’s fun seeing him vacillate between the various facets of manhood, alternating between the paternal instinct with Dr. Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace) and mentor to fellow agents (Jeananne Goossen and Shawn Ashemore). But chief among Bacon’s screen partners is Natalie Zea, playing Claire Matthews, ex-wife of Purefoy’s serial killer John Carroll, a woman with whom Hardy shares more history than just her aid in catching her husband. It’s always welcome to see Zea on any screen and hopefully she will get some great material to chew on.
James Purefoy’s performance and role, while initially titillating, is the one area where the show kind of loses its footing. His role screams “LOOK AT ME! I’M A FORMER ENGLISH PROFESSOR WITH AN OBSESSION WITH ROMANTIC POETS…AND MURDER. AREN’T I FRIGHTENING?!” It is perfectly fine for the writers and Purefoy to construct the character as being just another guy who has these quirks rather than a quirky guy. However this surface level characterization will wear thin very soon unless they add some wrinkles and dimensions. Though the pilot does a good job of setting up the character through numerous flashbacks, Williamson will have to come with something better than that to sustain the character throughout the season.
The Following debuts on Jan 21st at 9/8c pm on Fox.