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Serial killers. Aren't we done with them yet? Haven't Silence of the Lambs, Saw I-XXV, four seasons of Profiler, and 2,435 seasons of Criminal Minds and its spin-off mined everything this group of particularly sick and crazy people of all they could contribute to narrative?
Apparently not, because Kevin Williamson (yes, the creator of Dawson Creek and the TV version of The Vampire Diaries, but also of the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer film franchises) has decided that enough isn't enough, and we need another serial killer, preferably smart (not average IQ like most real serial killers), British (like Anthony Hopkins but unlike practically every real serial killer in the US) and merely sadistic (unlike most serial killers, who have sexual motivations for their crimes). And what better than to have a law enforcement operative, preferably with their own problems, trying to catch him with the help of less-inspired police-type people (cf Will Graham, Clarice Starling, Samantha Waters, Patrick Jane et al)?
So far, so entirely derivative. In fact, it was originally the script for Scream 3. So what, if anything, does Williamson's reheated new show, The Following, have to offer? Well, it's got the rather marvellous James Purefoy from Rome, Camelot and The Philanthropist, as the Edgar Allen Poe-obsessed killer, and the return of Kevin "centre of the universe" Bacon to network TV after 30 years (or something) away. It's also got another innovation - a cult of serial killers that Purefoy has been nurturing over the Internet from jail for all this time, a cult the members of which are prepared to lie in wait for years, getting close to people, until Purefoy tells them to leap into action as part of his new, sinister plan.
But apart from that, it's exactly what you might be expecting of a serial killer show: lots of incredibly nasty violence and women being victimised while a lone investigator and his band of dull assistants try to stop the worst from happening (usually not in time). Here's a trailer:
THE FBI estimates there are currently up to 300 active serial killers in the United States. What would happen if these killers had a way of communicating and connecting with each other? What if they were able to work together and form alliances? What if one brilliant and charismatic, yet psychotic mastermind was able to bring them all together and activate a cult of believers following his every command?
Welcome to THE FOLLOWING, the psychological thriller from creator/executive producer Kevin Williamson (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Dawson’s Creek,” the “Scream” franchise) and starring Golden Globe winner and Emmy Award nominee Kevin Bacon in his primetime series debut.
When notorious serial killer JOE CARROLL (James Purefoy) escapes from death row, the FBI calls former agent RYAN HARDY (Bacon) to consult on the case. Having since withdrawn from the public eye, Hardy was responsible for Carroll’s capture in 2003, after Carroll murdered 14 female students on the Virginia college campus where he taught literature.
Hardy is a walking textbook of all-things Carroll. He knows him better than anyone; he is perhaps Carroll’s only psychological and intellectual match. But the Ryan Hardy who broke the Carroll case years ago isn’t the same man today. Wounded both physically and mentally by his previous pursuit of this serial killer, it’s been a long time since Hardy has been in the field. This new investigation is his redemption, his call to action.
In contrast to the original investigation years ago, Hardy isn’t calling the shots anymore. He works closely with an FBI team, which includes young, razor-sharp MIKE WESTON (Shawn Ashmore) and FBI Specialist DEBRA PARKER (Annie Parisse), who is brought in to lead the investigation into Carroll and his followers. Although Weston seems to idolize him, most of the team considers Hardy to be more of a liability than an asset. But Hardy proves his worth when he uncovers that Carroll was covertly communicating with a network of followers in the outside world. It quickly becomes obvious that he has more planned than just a prison escape.
The FBI’s investigation leads Hardy back to CLAIRE MATTHEWS (Natalie Zea), Carroll’s ex-wife and the mother of the criminal’s young son, JOEY (newcomer Kyle Catlett). Close during Hardy’s initial investigation, Hardy turns to Claire for insight into Carroll’s next move.
The tension rises when Carroll’s accomplices kidnap his intended last victim (guest star Maggie Grace) from 10 years ago. Hardy becomes ever more determined to end Carroll’s game when he realizes that the psychopath intends to finish what he started.
The intense, spellbinding drama will follow Hardy and the FBI as they are challenged with the ever-growing web of murder around them, orchestrated by the devious Carroll, who dreams of writing a novel with Hardy as his protagonist. But since anyone anywhere could be a follower, how do you know who to trust?
THE FOLLOWING is from Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with Outerbanks
Is it any good?
The Following makes the same assumption that Criminal Minds makes: if you can quote noted authors, then by extrapolation, your work is as good as those authors'. Actually, that means you just have access to the Internet.
The Following is at least better than the incredibly stupid but pretentious Criminal Minds, even if it's also incredibly sadistic. It does spend time trying to develop the main characters and their relationships, come up with a novel twist on serial killers and make you afraid of these unbalanced people again. It has a good cast, it looks good and Williamson does pull of some of his usual but still-clever tricks, like having someone you assume to be important or a regular killed off in the first episode or changing the entire set-up of the show by its finale.
But ultimately, you will have seen this all before in some form, except maybe not with so much eye-extraction, finger-breaking and dissected dog. All the sympathetic and interesting characters are male, with the women dull, dead, psychotic or passive. The serial killers are all impossibly clever, able to get away with just about anything and willing to do just about anything, no matter how unlikely. Poetry is stuck on walls and the killers leave clues so that they can be found.
Seen it. Bored now.
What remains to be seen is how this pans out in future episodes. As mentioned, the show's set-up changes completely by the end of the first episode, so a lot of the fireworks from now on are going to be Purefoy and Bacon talking to one another while serial killer of the week does Purefoy's bidding so that he can co-write a book (I kid you not). This could become even more repetitive or could give us some innovation. Purefoy and Bacon are both great actors so that's something to be looked forward to, as well.
But the supporting cast need a lot of work. The "we hate Kevin Bacon" aspects of virtually every law enforcement officer's character is tedious and needs to be overcome quickly. And the misogyny and sadism are more than a little off-putting.
In other words, one to watch, just in case it gets good, but not too closely.
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