This review was originally posted November 2012; we’re re-posting in time for the series premiere.
The genre sure is thriving on television right now, both network and cable. Grimm is a whole lot of fun; The Walking Dead has bounced back from a mostly subpar season 2; Dexter is in peak form and as good as it’s ever been. And now, at least based on the pilot episode, Fox’s The Following can be added to the list.
Created by Kevin Williamson, who also penned the pilot, The Following is a serial killer thriller both familiar and fresh. It effectively repackages customary genre elements while penetrating territory less well-traveled. Add a stellar cast, potent thrills, and a breakneck pace, and you’ve got an extremely promising 45 minutes.
The amount of action and information packed into the first 7 minutes of the show is remarkable and a little jarring. If you miss even 30 seconds you’ll be lost. It opens at the Virginia Central Penitentiary. Notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), dressed as a guard, is making his way out of the prison. He calmly drives off right before real guards discover that he has brutally slaughtered five of their brethren as part of his escape.
In Brooklyn, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) starts his day with a little vodka. He was responsible for capturing Carroll, a college professor and Poe fanatic who murdered 14 female students. Life has been rough for Hardy since then, and his divorce from the FBI was not amicable, but now they need his help.
Immediately after the escape the FBI and police arrive at the home of Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace), the only person to survive Carroll’s spree. Stabbed repeatedly, she managed to pull through and testify at his trial, which we see in a brief flashback.
All of that happens before the 7-minute mark. It’s an understatement to call the pilot fast-paced. Other key players introduced soon after include Carroll’s ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea), who has a past with Hardy, and young FBI agent Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), an ardent fan of Hardy and the book he wrote about Carroll.
As Hardy and the FBI attempt to capture Carroll and protect Sarah, it becomes clear that the killer is one step ahead of them. He was not wasting away in prison; rather, he managed to establish a presence online and developed a huge nationwide following. Followers include prison guards and people very close to some of the main characters. 24-hour law enforcement protection can’t keep people safe. After a woman covered in Poe writings kills herself in broad daylight, it is apparent that his followers will do anything for the charismatic Carroll.
In certain respects, The Following is very stale. Bacon is a superb actor, but his character (at least in the pilot) feels too one-dimensional. Drinking problem, issues with authority, emotional and physical scars, too obsessed with the job. He’s very similar to Will Graham and Hardy is not all that compelling at the outset. It’s also hard to believe that despite capturing Carroll not that long ago, no one in law enforcement respects Hardy’s opinions or is willing to listen to anything he has to say.
Purefoy fares much better. He plays disarmingly dangerous very convincingly. You buy that people would be willing to follow Carroll. He’s a formidable opponent for Hardy. Carroll’s actions following his escape make for some powerful sequences including a harrowing scene at Sarah’s home that showcases Carroll’s reach and his elaborate planning. Without giving too much away, it is Carroll’s master plan that elevates The Following from typical serial killer fare. It’s pretty spectacular and takes the show to a new level before the episode comes to a close.
As with any pilot, the bottom line is, do you want to keep watching after it’s over. In this case the answer is a resounding yes. It’s not without flaws, but the setup hints at a potentially great show. It premieres on Monday, January 21st. Mark your calendar.