I have to admit; I fell for the hype. The ads for The Following made it look like a fresh, innovative, serialized new drama. Judging from the pilot (and I will preface this review with the acknowledgement that its hard to judge an entire series based on just the pilot. But not that hard), it is none of those things.
What was sold as a tale of master criminal versus super sleuth boils down to little more than overwrought clichés and an over reliance of violence. Kevin Bacon is wasted as the tortured (read: alcoholic) cop who is the only one who understands James Purefoy’s deliciously evil serial killer. The trope of smooth, charismatic sociopath and the good hearted, but troubled detective has been done so many times its almost embarrassing that we still have to go back to it. It feels like the characters are just going through the motions; the cop is mad so he throws a chair, the killer is egotistical so he has to explain everything before just getting on with his killing. It just feels tedious at this point.
And the lengths this killer has gone to to kill stretches even the most open of minds. These convoluted plots are usually what shows fall back on when the all the good ideas have been taken, so the fact that we were treated to pretzel of a pilot (a lot of twists, but utterly predictable) does not bode well.
Perhaps it was just the over promotion of The Following (or the fact that its called The Following), but the entire hour culminated with the revelation that Joe Carroll (Purefoy) has created a cult that will now be carrying out his killing for him. In other words, information we had going into the episode. But perhaps the greatest sin of the advertising was the feeling (and perhaps I was alone in this) that this was a purely serialized show. And perhaps it still will be, but the impression I came away with was that going forward this would be a procedural focusing on the killings of Carroll’s protégés and Carroll’s own master plan will be a periphery storyline sprinkled into the episodes until it culminates in a two part season finale.
I have nothing against procedural shows, but the most successful procedurals understand that the characters are what carry a story that exists in just 44 minutes. The characters of The Following are nothing but weak carbon copies of characters we’ve seen a hundred times before. Clearly, we were meant to attach to some of them so that the shocking kidnap of a child at the end of the episode would invoke some sort of emotion. It did not. It was too predictable and the characters were too one dimensional to elicit anything more than an eye roll.
My biggest problem with The Following was the gratuitous violence. Far too often network television attempts to compete with cable by adding more violence and sex. There was a little too much eye gauging to get nasty, but they had violence more than covered. I’m no stranger to violence on TV and it takes a lot to actually bother me. This bothered me. The sheer amount of twisted, disturbing imagery they managed to cram into 44 minutes is astounding. Perhaps in a different context it wouldn’t have bothered me, but there is more than enough depravity in our news these days, I don’t need it to one upped in my entertainment.
I will always give a show more than one episode to win me over, and would encourage the same in everyone, because as I’ve said it is hard to judge a show on just a pilot, but I will so begrudgingly and with much bias.
– Devin Mainville