The Following makes me crazy.
Intellectually, I know that the new Fox drama about a cult of serial killers is not that good. It relies on a lot of clichés from the genre and the writing and plotting is problematic on many levels. It thinks it is a much smarter show than it is. I know all this.
And yet, I can’t stop watching. In fact, I look forward to The Following every Monday night. Flaws and all, I can’t help getting sucked into a show that I know I shouldn’t be this into. To quote the great George Constanza, who himself was paraphrasing the not-so-great The Godfather, Part III — “Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.”
The fact that I can rattle off a list of the problems that I have with the show, yet still feel compelled to turn in very week is extremely frustrating. I guess one shouldn’t underestimate the power of Kevin Bacon.
If you haven’t seen the show, Bacon stars as former FBI agent Ryan Hardy. He is called out of retirement when the serial killer Joe Carroll escapes from prison, as Ryan was instrumental in Carroll’s original capture. In their manhunt, Ryan and the FBI discover that Carroll has cultivated a cult of followers who are helping him carry out his master plan.
My biggest problem with The Following is that I think the writers “cheat” quite a bit. They consistently write themselves into a corner and then have to bend the rules of good storytelling to get themselves out of it. When the writers aren’t sure what to do to prevent everyone from being caught or to explain an unlikely string of events, they simply reveal that someone “isn’t what they seem” and is one of Carroll’s devotees. This was a thrilling revelation the first few times that they did it, but it has now become such an over-relied upon plot resolution that it has lost all of its effectiveness. These revelations often occur seemingly out of nowhere; one minute someone is working with the FBI, the next they are helping other members of the cult escape from harm. It’s gotten to the point where I just assume that everyone is a member of Carroll’s crew – if it is eventually revealed that Kevin Bacon himself (Carroll’s sworn nemesis) is actually in on all of the murder and mayhem, I don’t think I’d even blink. If Carroll ever decides to “go straight” and stop hacking people up, he should go to work for a college or university because he is one hell of a recruiter. The fact that this guy has a seemingly unlimited bench of acolytes, some in strategic positions of power, he can activate at any time would be very impressive, if it wasn’t completely ridiculous. The writers need to come up with a new signature move.
The members of the cult also seem to vacillate a lot in their competency; one minute they are pulling of an extremely complex and dazzling stealth caper that required a lot of long term preparation and the next they are making some pretty rookie mistakes that make them look like idiots. They have been increasingly stupid in the last few episodes; I may have never pulled off a complicated escape from prison or killed a bunch of people (that you know of), but I have watched enough Law & Order to know better than some of these clowns. Their intelligence level seems to be dictated by what is needed for the plot.
The show appears to have eased up on one of my other complaints, which was they were hammering home the Edgar Allan Poe symbolism a little too hard. Carroll is supposed to be obsessed with Poe and the early episodes went out of their way to make sure that the viewer never forgot that. I’m no Poe expert, though I did write a pretty kick-ass term paper on him my junior year of high school, but some of the connections that the show makes to Poe seems a little farfetched. The writers have moved away from this a bit – you can now go a whole episode without someone quoting The Raven – but every once in a while they throw out some reference just to remind you.
I have some other minor issues with the show, like I think they probably should have cast a more charismatic guy as Carroll, but despite all of this, I can’t seem to quit this show. Even when I know most of the tricks that the writers have up their sleeves, they occasionally do something that is unexpected. The Following has more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie and even with the increasingly frequent “and he/she is a member of the following” reveals, you still can’t help but be curious as to what is going to happen next. The show isn’t completely telegraphed and there have been several times where I have been surprised at where the story line has gone. I’ll give The Following credit – they know how to ramp up the tension each week. It’s such a thrilling ride that you almost forget all the issues.
Credit has to be given to Kevin Bacon as well; he is the anchor of the show and he’s doing his usual solid work. Bacon is just a really likeable actor and it helps that you are being asked to root for him every week. I’m also a fan of Natalie Zea from Justified and the short lived program Dirty Sexy Money (anyone else watch this?) and she does a nice job in her role as Carroll’s ex-wife and love interest for Kevin Bacon. Some members of the cult are more compelling than others, but there are definitely some interesting dynamics unfolding between the three main cult members. I’m not totally on board with the actress that is playing Agent Parker (Annie Parisse), but they are attempting to flesh out that character to at least give her a more interesting backstory.
The Following will probably never crack my pantheon of great shows; I’m not even sure that I would be this invested in it if I had anything else on my television schedule for Monday nights. It helps that this is only a thirteen episode season; any longer and I think their tendency to return everything to the status quo would just become far too repetitive. But if I can shut my brain off and just go with the flow, the show is sure a lot of fun. Despite its faults, it is an hour of fast paced entertainment, which is sometimes all that you need.
The Following airs Monday nights at 9 pm (ET) on FOX. Viewer discretion is advised – this is a pretty violent show for network TV.