by Coop Cooper
Traditionally, TV midseason (usually in January/February) was a dumping ground for TV pilots initially rejected from a fall season premiere. Networks would take an early ax to their lowest-rated fall shows and transfer the budget to these substitutes in the fat-chance hope that a sleeper hit would emerge. This usually results in a turkey Now with around-the-year programming, networks are seeing the midseason as second opportunity to launch some of their A-list shows. The most hyped show of midseason 2013 is “The Following” on the Fox network.
Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is an ex-Fed burnout wounded in the capture of famed serial killer Joe Carroll (Hugh Jackman lookalike, James Purefoy). Ten years later, the Hannibal Lecter-like Carroll kills five guards and escapes, prompting the Bureau to bring Hardy back on as a consultant, even though his colleagues resent him for profiting off of a book about the case. Carroll’s trail leads Hardy to other killers who have been recruited by Carroll to form a cult with an unknown, yet nefarious agenda. Hardy must catch Carroll before the killer puts his full plan into effect. Meanwhile, Hardy reconnects with an old flame (Natalie Zea) which happens to be Carroll’s ex-wife.
Kevin Bacon is rusty. He appears more tired and uninspired than his character is supposed to look but as in many shows, the actors can begin to feel more comfortable in their roles and eventually break out of the early slump. Bacon better get it in gear if he wants to earn more than a paycheck from this project. The rest of the cast is recognizable with Shawn Ashmore (“X-Men: Last Stand”), perpetual victim character actor Maggie Grace (“Lost” and “Taken”), Natalie Zea (“Justified”), James Purefoy (“Resident Evil” and “Rome”). They all have potential but few show it in this pilot as they are resigned to their standard supporting character banality.
The show is created by Kevin Williams, famous for his self-referential horror films like “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and teenybopper shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Vampire Diaries.” “The Following” clones his horror formula by also attempting the ‘meta’ route by constantly referencing Edgar Allen Poe and suggesting that the characters in this show are all part of some new thriller masterpiece yet to be written, but this conceit is largely symbolic. The storyline attempts to convince the audience it is more clever than it is, and while there are some great twists over the course of the pilot, it borrows heavily from better material and utilizes cop clichés that would embarrass even the corniest of “CSI” characters.
Be warned, there is a gruesome plot twist before every commercial break. A couple are inspired but one in particular goes for complete shock value. The twist is ripped-off from the movie “Seven” except more gratuitous and cruel which is certainly meant to cause water cooler outrage in offices across the country. The show also blatantly steals from Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs” almost to the point of rip-off.
I didn’t notice anything original about the show at first. The dialog consists primarily of police procedural clichés, and all-too-familiar character archetypes. There’s also nebulous technobabble, alcoholic OCD ex-cops, victims compulsively rubbing scars where they survived a serial killer attack… all the usual stuff we have seen thousands of times in shows like this. However, by the end I was convinced Williams may have arranged a clever bait-and-switch. It begins like a standard cop show but as each horrifying twist plays out, by the end even the hero knows things have gotten too out of control with no way back to normalcy. As a result of the carnage, Hardy commits an uncharacteristic violent move of his own to prove he is not going to play by Carroll’s rules, signaling a change in the tone.
Of course, maybe I’m reading too much into a show that could also have the potential to be just as dull as last year’s “Alcatraz” but its clear “The Following” will at least be bloody and twisty. I just hope it is done with the usual cop-show tropes and continues to venture into original territory. If not, it could sink into the graveyard of recent notable midseason failures such as “The Cape” and the primetime “Napoleon Dynamite” cartoon.
“The Following” has an encore showing tonight (Friday) at 8pm on Fox and will continue to air at 8pm on Mondays.