Channel Surfing: Thoughts on Fox’s The Following

January 23, 2013 Films / TV Series 1

When I first heard James Purefoy passed on Game of Thrones to star in Fox’s The Following, I thought he was crazy. I absolutely adore Purefoy as an actor and I never pass up an opportunity to see anything he’s in. I was unsure about The Following because of the premise, but the fact that Kevin Williamson is involved as the creator and a producer, I was willing to put away doubts and give it a chance.

Premise: A brilliant and charismatic, yet psychotic serial killer communicates with other active serial killers and activates a cult of believers following his every command.

If you’ve seen any of the Scream films, well the first two since they were written by Williamson, then you know his work and there’s no doubt The Following IS a Williamson production.  I couldn’t help, but make comparisons between Scream 2 and The Following in terms of the use of a sorority and it taking place on a college campus.  Oddly enough the statement about 300 active serial killers in the US, is uttered in Scream 2.  The Following is what in many ways should have been Scream 3.  It turns out Williamson already had an idea for Scream 3’s plot; however, the studio brought in a different writer and he was off the project.  Years later he takes the idea of people committing murder based on a leader’s instructions.  This isn’t new, after all, Charles Manson’s followers did what he asked in 1969.

Kevin Bacon is Ryan Hardy, the FBI agent who brought down Joe Carroll (James Purefoy).  Carroll is an English Lit professor whose specialty is Edgar Allan Poe. When Carroll’s much anticipated book fails, he begins to kill women on his university campus in the name of Poe. His 15th victim, Sarah Fuller, is saved by Hardy and when Carroll escapes prison he’s out to write the ending he was denied.

I thought I might go more traditional this time, you know, villain, good versus evil. I need a strong protagonist so that the reader can truly invest, a flawed, broken man searching for redemption, and that is you. You are my flawed hero. Yes, I ensured that by killing Sarah. She was the inciting incident, the hero’s call to action. This is merely the prologue, this is just the beginning. That was the entire point of Sarah’s death. It was for you. It’s just the beginning.-Joe Carroll talking to Ryan Hardy

What made me wary about the show? As some of you know, I’m a big fan of the Chelsea Cain Archie / Gretchen series.  For those not familiar with the series, it’s about a beautiful serial killer who captures the lead detective and tortures him.  Gretchen Lowell becomes this instant celebrity because of how beautiful she is and inspires shirts that say “Run Gretchen Run,” when she escapes prison.  As for the detective, Archie Sheridan is never the same and Gretchen figures heavily in the background.  The series is currently made of 5 books with a 6th to be released later in the year.  Cain sold the rights to the series this past year and FX is developing the series.  There’s still a way to go and that involves a pilot being filmed, etc.  I was unsure about The Following because in the Cain novels, Gretchen has what I call apprentices.  Archie asks her how many people are out there that are ticking time bombs.  To hear a plot about a serial killer with a following who commits murder at his request made me really think about wanting to see this.  I have a suspicion that Gretchen plays a much deeper role in the crimes committed by others in the series.  It’s inevitable if the Cain series does air that the two will get compared just like Archie / Gretchen get compared to Clarice / Hannibal Lecter’s relationship.

As I watched, I was surprised at how much I liked it. It was a bit predictable, but I believe most pilots these days are.  If Williamson stays on as the producer of the series, I can foresee it lasting longer than a season.  It will be interesting to see what other aspects they bring in especially with regards to symbolism and Poe’s work. I know some viewers have a problem with the way Poe’s work is being depicted and going so far to say that Poe wasn’t homicidal. True, but I think they are missing the point: this is Carroll’s interpretation of Poe’s work. The fact Carroll is an academic professor pretty much sums it all. Those of us in academia have encountered others we have disagreed with when it comes to a text. Keeping that in mind, I have to say Carroll isn’t using Poe’s work to commit murder because Poe believed in it, but rather this is just one man’s academic interpretation of an author’s work.

A warning: it is gory and disturbing.  I’m actually quite surprised at how much they got away with.  It’s a bold move for regular network television and it leaves me wondering if this will set the bar for others to follow.

Overall, The Following was good and enjoyable.  I’ll be sleeping with the lights on and making sure I don’t take out the trash too late at night.

Did anyone else see it? If so what are your thoughts?

One Response to “Channel Surfing: Thoughts on Fox’s The Following”

  1. Lauren

    I’ll have to give this a try when it comes out on DVD; Kevin Bacon is a good actor when he wants to be (and chooses decent material, ha ha), and I’m a fan of James Purefroy’s talent.

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