I have to say possibly based on all of the hype created by FOX, The Following was my most anticipated new series of the 2012 season. Part of it was the draw of Kevin Bacon on a television show (I'm a sucker for those casting schemes) and part of it was the fact that I like dark dramas, especially ones that aren't procedurals. In that way, The Following delivers. It's dark and violent and follows the tale of a serial convincing and creepy killer. That, my friends is where its successes end.
However, before I begin, I have to say that it was an interesting pilot because as I was watching I thought I enjoyed it. A lot. Notice I say "thought". I was interested and looking forward to tuning in next week and excited to have a new series to look forward to watching. Then, I came in this morning and began writing up my thoughts about it and what happened was I couldn't come up with anything that I really liked. Had I gotten I drunk on small screen Kevin Bacon brew while watching the first episode? Yes, possibly. However, the alcohol has worn off and the hangover has settled inside my brain and heart.
The plot of the series sounds interesting enough. Serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has escaped from prison and alcoholic ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon) is brought back onto the team to help find him, because he is the only one that knows Carroll "best" since he spent years studying his every move in an attempt to catch him. Through the chase, Hardy discovers that Carroll has slyly been using the prison computer to create a vast cult-like network of followers who are now becoming serial killers in their own right. My first problem with this situation is that the concept of yet again watching a story surrounding an alcoholic "brilliant" man that is brought back to do something he was fired from doing. I have trouble watching because inevitably he will get clearance or have knowledge of something that someone that is not in the bureau never would Alos, if you are going to do this, you better make him likable and you better actually show the audience that he is (or was) a hero in the first few minutes of the story and not just expect us to believe it because you tell us it is fact. If you would like to see a successful example of this device, see the recent Denzel Washington movie Flight. (I didn't watch in time for my Best of 2012 list, but it deserves to be on there and will be making an addendum!). Kevin Bacon is charismatic enough to almost pull this off and make you not care about the flaws in his character or the storytelling behind it, but when it comes down to it, even the best actors can't pull expected to carry the weight of unsuccessful character development.
The cast surrounding Bacon has high and low points. James Purefoy is great in his work as the demented cult leader and serial killer and you really see his acting chops being used. He has enough charisma to believe that he could actually garner a cult-like following for his beliefs, which is good because without this, the series would have failed miserably and immediately. I very much like Natalie Zea, who plays Carroll's ex-wife who had and affair with Hardy at some point. However, every time I see her, I only get mad that it means that Winona is not going to be a prominent character on Justified this season. The surrounding cast then falls into the land of unexciting, with Shawn Ashmore, the only possible stand out, as the young, eager Hardy-wannabe. Luckily, upon investigation it seems that many of the incredibly boring and terrible agents in the pilot will quickly be replaced by more interesting actors and hopefully characters.
I find the concept of the followers and Carroll's cult to actually be very fascinating and feel like there would be some fresh ground to cover there. Many have called it unbelievable, but I have done some reading on cult's (the book Join Me is one of the most fascinating examples of this) and it is not that hard to believe that people would follow so blindly based on internet contact, especially these days. Nonetheless, the success of the series will be If they are able to progressively capitalize on this and make it a creepy and in-depth look into the psychology and culture of cultism and serial killing. However, being that this is an extreme concept, anything short of brilliance in this arena likely will not be enough. I keep thinking of Se7en as a standard and want to compare the two, but The Following is so far inferior to the movie, it is not possible to even make a connection. The show is going to have to get much more sophisticated throughout the series and not lie on simple literary quotes to maintain my interest.
In this regard, I am not totally done with the show yet. I do believe that there is enough potential and if they fix some problems, there could be a great series found here. However, it is going to have to do a lot of work to impress me in episode 2 and if this is the plotting and development they could come up with working on the pilot for months, I worry about if that will be accomplished.
The series premiered to fairly impressive numbers and was the second highest rated drama debut of the season, tied with Elementary. It also outperformed all other dramas on Monday night, including its lead-in Bones, Castle and Hawaii 5-0. The interesting test will be to see how many viewers return next week, and I suspect there is going to be a large drop in that number. FOX has had a tough go at it lately, especially in the drama area. With big series failures like Terra Nova and Alcatraz, they really need a success. They are now in third place in the ratings behind NBC (yes, NBC!) and it doesn't seem that American Idol is going to be the savior it once was. The real question is....can The Following be "the one"?
Let me know your thoughts! Did you watch? Will you be back next week?