Fox has a new crime thriller — ok — starring Kevin Bacon — interested — about a serial killer obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe — now we’re getting somewhere. “The Following” has a new twist on the usual formula for a crime drama. The show pits the former FBI agent who caught an infamous murderer against the recently escaped convict and his legion of minions. Despite its immense promise, the show stumbles on basic missteps common to its genre.
After capturing smooth-talking Professor Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, TV’s “Revenge”), who slaughtered several of his female students, Ryan Hardy (Bacon, “X-Men: First Class”) is called back by the FBI after Carroll escapes from prison ten years later. Having cashed in on the capture with a book deal and drowning his memories in booze, Hardy is less than thrilled to be back on the case.
But Hardy knows exactly what Carroll will do now that he’s loose: finish what he started with the victim that got away and get revenge on his his ex-wife. Hardy knows where every one of Carroll’s carefully calculated moves will take him, but not necessarily what he’ll find when he gets there. Carroll spins Hardy in circles to the theme of Edgar Allen Poe, Carroll’s favorite author, with the help of recruits Carroll enticed before and during his prison sentence. “The Following” has a lot going on all the time, but it’s not hard to keep up with the storyline.
“The Following” is smart to a point. The progression of events makes just enough sense with just enough justification to keep the audience from misunderstanding what Hardy is thinking or what Carroll will do next. The plot twists around several times in the course of 45 minutes, and it’s an exciting ride on the linear level. But “The Following” is supposed to be multilayered, not just another cop drama.
Speaking of which, if you have any respect for cops at all, “The Following” will have you screaming at the screen over simple missteps taken by the on-screen authorities. Writer Kevin Williamson (TV’s “The Vampire Diaries”) progresses the plot by having everything go wrong in order for Bacon to clean up the mess — too often caused by overly incompetent policemen and women. It’s a boring formula that is relied on far too often in the first episode alone, and the device is borderline offensive to police forces everywhere.
While it’s shocking to have scenes like a woman with Poe’s “The Raven” written on her skin stabbing herself to death, it’s too random. The show is advertised as having an eerie presence throughout, but nothing about its production quality even seems creepy. It feels like any other Fox show: No lighting changes, no creepy music, just more of the same; nothing even remotely artistic appears in the show itself, just in the show’s video advertisements and promotions.
It’s almost as if “The Following” is trying to play it safe by going all-in with the plot and saving more for later. If this is the case, it needs to step up to the challenge it gave itself in the next episode. Otherwise, the show is going to fall flat and get really boring.
“The Following” is in serious danger of burning itself out in the first few episodes. Having the serial killer escape and then get recaptured in the same episode is a bold move. Either the show is going to keep audiences engaged for the rest of winter before sputtering out by spring, or it will get its act together and focus on the psychological and scary nature of its setting.