While audiences mainly disagreed (if ratings are any indication), The Following took a beating from critics. It even showed up on some worst-shows-of-the-year lists. There was a lot of griping about its violence being excessively depraved and the storyline being cliché-ridden. Granted, the first season wasn’t perfect. After a strong start it grew increasingly preposterous, and it featured what has to be the most hapless law enforcement officials in TV history when it comes to protecting the innocent, performing investigative work, and tracking down the nation’s most wanted criminal.
Still, it was never boring (and some of the criticism was borderline hysterical and excessive). Even when it was totally absurd it managed to keep your attention. The presence of Kevin Bacon helped tremendously. He’s an exceptional actor and his enormous appeal helped to steer viewers through the show’s rockier moments. There were also some nasty and shocking attacks by the followers, and if you stuck with it you couldn’t help but be at least a little intrigued by how it was all going to end.
Season 2 launches with what is being called a special preview episode airing on Fox on Sunday, January 19th after the NFC Championship Game before the official season premiere airs on Monday, January 27th. The episode picks up right where the first season left off. Ryan (Bacon) and Claire (Natalie Zea) are attacked in his apartment by a neighbor and follower of Joe’s (James Purefoy). Though Ryan is able to kill the attacker, it isn’t until after he and Claire have been stabbed numerous times.
A year after the attack Ryan is slowly putting his life back together. He is teaching and has been sober for five months. His niece Max (Jessica Stroup), an officer in the NYPD, has been extremely supportive and it seems they see one another regularly. Ryan has also been going out of his way to avoid all things Joe Carroll and fully believes the serial killer/cult leader is dead. A sudden and vicious attack on the subway in New York destroys the peace. Three people in Carroll masks murder five people (one, played by Connie Nielsen, survives). During their attack that repeatedly say “resurrection” before adding “Joe Carroll lives” and “Ryan Hardy can’t stop us.” To figure out if they are dealing with copycat killers, old followers or new ones, the FBI turns to Hardy along with Agent Weston (Shawn Ashmore).
Since Fox unfortunately made only one episode available for review, it is difficult to get a clear impression of the second season’s quality. The preview episode is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it moves so quickly there’s no time for boredom to set in. The 42 minutes fly by, much as they did last year even during the weaker episodes. The subway attack is well-staged and potent, and the Carroll masks are suitably creepy. The cast is an asset as well. Bacon is solid as always and there are promising new additions to complement returning ones.
On the other hand, a new character played by Sam Underwood (recently seen on Dexter and Homeland) is irritating. He’s crazy in an extremely self-conscious way. He talks to a corpse and it’s supposed to be shocking and disturbing, but it comes across as strained and way too self-satisfied. Sadly, it seems as if the character (and another just like him) will play a major part in the new season. There’s also reason to believe that law enforcement will be just as incompetent as it was last season. Hardy is also superhuman, at least in this episode. He is absolutely nailed by a cab, bouncing off the windshield and landing on the street with considerable force. It doesn’t even slow him down.
The good does outweigh the bad, and overall it’s mostly engaging in a don’t-think-about-it-too-much way, but last season went downhill after a strong start, so very cautious optimism is prudent at this point. Here’s hoping The Following fully realizes its potential this season.