Television: The Following, "Pilot"

Kevin Bacon is the new Kiefer Sutherland and The Following is the new 24, a potential hit much needed by slumping FOX.

In The Following, Bacon plays ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who single-handedly put away serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy). Alas, as the pilot episode begins, Carroll is escaping from prison thanks in large part to aid by a guard converted to his "cause" such as it is. Carroll had been a Romantic Literature professor with a particular love of Edgar Allan Poe; when his first and only novel failed to gain acclaim, he sought another way of creating art: killing young women and cutting out their eyes.

Despite all the chatter of The Following being graphic, regular viewers of cable television shows such as American Horror Story will find little to look away from here. In fact, The Following is rated TV-14 rather than M. Perhaps it's graphic for network television, but . . .

On the whole, the fast pacing makes The Following eminently watchable because it sustains the viewer's interest. Some of what took place in the pilot was telegraphed a little too loudly and/or was too obvious for my tastes, but clearly someone believed much needed to be spelled out for the audience, and so a lot of dialogue was designed to explain Hardy's past, his injury and subsequent dismissal from the FBI, his relationship to Carroll's ex-wife, etc. Beyond dialogue, some of the actions were also transparent; even in the first scene, as Carroll is dressed as a guard and hailed from behind by another guard, he makes a noncommittal grunt that gives away that he is not the man the guard thinks he is. It is an old trick and the show does not benefit for having stooped to using it.

Then there is the issue of Hardy being brought in by the FBI as a "consultant" because he knows Carroll so well. While watching the show, one does begin to wonder whether the real FBI isn't being served an injustice in this portrayal—does it really take this supposedly brilliant agent that long to link the bloody scrawl "NEVERMORE" to Poe's "The Raven"? And if he's the smart one, what does it say for the rest of them?

The injection of literature is facile and superficial; all discussions of Poe in the pilot episode are textbook and at a juvenile level. It's a wonder Carroll was teaching at a university. Must've been an intro class, or even one of those the incoming freshmen have to take for remediation.

My final beef is with the ending of the episode, which was so self-aware in setting up Hardy as the hero, even as Carroll is telling him how they're writing a television show book together. "Every good story needs a love interest," Carroll says, and we have that too, what with the failed relationship between Hardy and Carroll's ex. It's as if the last of the show was made to showcase, Look! We have a story here! A good one! Keep reading watching!

Okay, but here's the thing: all those issues aside, The Following IS a compelling story with an interesting plot and enough characters to keep things moving. In that much, the pilot did its job by setting up the situation and laying out the people like a deck of cards to be dealt as needed by the writers and creators. We know the protagonist (Hardy) and antagonist (Carroll), but there are still many cards left in the hand. Let's learn more about Weston, Mitchell, and the others. (As an aside, why such plain names?) Let's see where this goes. Regardless of the nuisances I've listed above, I'm in. I'm following.

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