Monday was the premiere of the new horror show The Following on Fox. We followed Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy, a FBI agent that helped capture the Edgar Allen Poe obsessed serial killer and college literary professor Joe Carroll and turned his exploits into a best-selling book. Seems that Hardy has fallen on hard times when the show begins. He is no longer in the FBI due to his heart condition and his water bottles filled with vodka. Caroll had managed to stab Hardy in the heart during his capture. Hardy has a pacemaker as an ongoing reminder of the terror. The alcohol is just to kill the pain apparently. You see, a hero can only rise from the ashes when his life has been burned to a crisp and he actually lives in said ashes (I’ve heard that ashes are in fact no fun to live in and kind of ashy), or at least that’s the formula. Formula is the key word here.
Caroll escapes to finish his original killing streak literary masterpiece. There was one girl who got away and that just wouldn’t do. What if Poe had never finished The Tell-Tale Heart? The world would surely be left with a heart sized hole somewhere floating among the dark clouds of Baltimore and we would collectively weep for the missing piece. That’s what the ever romantic Caroll would say, maybe. I’m not a crazy psychopath so I could be wrong.
One of the few strays from formula happens when Caroll is captured yet again at the end of the show. He has to orchestrate his lurid blockbuster (he has resigned himself to mass market paperback fiction status this time it seems) from his cell. A mass of followers do his bidding outside the walls of the prison and it will be Hardy’s job to play the foil. Not only to play the foil but to also play the hero. Caroll has planned the redemption of Hardy. I get the feeling it will be a painful rebirth.
You may think that I didn’t like the show but that’s only partly true. I can see the potential that was there when the idea for the show was born but some pieces seem to be forced or missing. As the opening credits flashed on the screen I noticed Kevin Williamson’s name as the writer. This totally feels like a Williamson piece. I happen to really enjoy the Scream series and hold no ill will for Williamson but his fingerprints are all over The Following. He is trying to play the wry commentary and the whole Caroll creating a “story” for Hardy to follow that will include a hero’s journey and eventual redemption through a series of murders that the world will witness is almost too cute. It also seems that all the followers of Caroll were gained through internet chats that caused such fascination in Caroll that the followers will do anything for him, including stabbing themselves in the eye with an ice pick. I know some marketing companies that would kill for that kind of brand messaging over the web. I see a post serial killer career for Caroll in advertising.
I do like the mood of the show and Kevin Bacon brings his A game as Hardy. I may still watch the second episode just to see if things go where expected. There is such a void of horror shows on television that I hate to give up on it so soon. I am in the less is more camp and believe there is no need to push the envelope of bloody violence on television, which The Following is attempting to do already. Poe was always more elegant and imaginative in his writings so I would think that a serial killer inspired by the writer would do something more creative than ripping the eyes out of his victims. I hope they play up the Poe angle by using more themes found in Poe’s work.
If you like horror movies, serial killer movies and Kevin Bacon, you may enjoy watching The Following. It is somewhat suspenseful and the acting is generally good. James Purefoy is Caroll and plays seductively menacing well. Let’s just hope that the show builds on what promise is there and doesn’t roll about in the muck trying to wax eloquent on wink-wink horror story commentary too wise for its own good.
Oh, one more thing…I got ten bucks that says the Mike Weston character is a Caroll follower in hiding.