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'The Following' premiere attempts to rise above the cliches

The Following poster

Written by : published Tuesday 22nd January 2013

'The Following' premiere attempts to rise above the cliches main image

FOX's newest serial drama, "The Following," premiered Monday night to solid ratings in the timeslot (but slightly below that of "Alcatraz," the short-lived drama that occupied this slot last year).  But for someone who watched "Alcatraz," let me tell you:  "The Following" has infinitely better chances of succeeding and catching fire in the long-run.

That's not to say that "The Following" didn't have problems.  The first five minutes of the premiere episode presented us with a myriad of tired television cliches.  James Purefoy (who stole nearly every scene he inhabited as Marc Anthony in the short-lived HBO series "Rome") is Joe Carroll, a scholarly serial killer who escapes prison as the episode begins.  Wouldn't you know, he's British.  Then you have our protaganist, Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon, a former FBI agent who is sucked back into duty (yawn) since he and he alone has an intimate history with the escaped villain.  Wouldn't you know, Hardy's also an alcoholic.

With all of these tired plot conventions paving the way, I half-expected to find Hardy's ex-wife waiting for him at the bureau.  But then, "The Following" shifted.  It got interesting.

Let's face it:  Serial killers are intriguing, and dramas continue to feature them because of how fascinating it can be to glimpse into their twisted mind.  Here, Carroll is a very smart former professor, an expert on romantic literature - specifically that of Edgar Allan Poe - and many of his crimes relate to Poe's work.  Carroll had previously been brought down by Agent Hardy, who had gone on to write a book about Carroll's psychology.  Now that Carroll is on the loose again, the FBI relies on Hardy to take him down.

Not only is the "reluctant hero" thing a bit of a worn-out idea, so is the premise that our FBI is helpless without the help of this one former agent.  Many dramas of this type rely heavily on the good guy and bad guy existing as "yin and yang," where they each possess a special something that only the other person can understand.  Add to this, that in Hardy's backstory (told with very "Lost"-y swish-sounds and flashbacks), we learn that he suffered an injury that Carroll gave him, that left him with a pacemaker.  Yes, he has been forced to retire because he was not fit to be a field agent, but then simply becomes a field agent once again because the plot demands it.

Bacon plays him with a familiar, Jack Bauer-y demeanor.  Smartly, the show doesn't focus too much on back-story but propels along quickly enough where it becomes fairly engaging.  Hardy assumes Carroll will target his last former victim (Maggie Grace) who survived and testified against him, to finish what he started.  We also meet Carroll's former lover, Claire (Natalie Zea), and their son and we get a somewhat implied idea that Hardy and Claire had a romantic past as well.

But none of this was as intriguing as what we learn about Carroll himself.  When a young girl commits suicide right in front of Hardy at the police station (covered in Poe writings all over her body), their investigation leads them to discover that Carroll has had over 40-some visitors over the past year in prison.  He also somehow had access to the internet, after influencing one of the prison guards tasked with keeping an eye on him.

Yes, Carroll's most chilling (and interesting) charateristic is that he has tremendous influence over people.  A cult "following" actually.  In fact, the title "The Following" doesn't apply to Hardy's chase to track down Carroll, but rather Carroll's "following" that he has somehow created for himself while behind prison walls.

This is where "The Following" transcended most other shows and this is what makes me think that this series has a great deal of potential moving forward, despite some of the cliches previously mentioned.  The show isn't about what Carroll is going to do himself, it's about what he has planned for others who are willing to die for him.  During this first episode, we learn that he influenced the suicidal girl (from the police station), the prison guard (who is still on the loose) and the next-door neighbors of Maggie Grace's character, who posed as a gay couple for over three years in order to get close and comfortable with her.  These developments - while perhaps far-fetched - show the lengths that these "sleeper agents" are willing to take for Carroll's cause (which is still mostly unknown).  It creates a show where anybody, at any time, could reveal themselves as a Follower.  Now that's some intriguing television.

Networks are always petrified of the "serial" television program, afraid that the audience won't be able to just jump in mid-way through a show's run.  "The Following" will try to alleviate some of these fears, by showing the entire 15-episode run, one per week, starting with last night's episode.

Gruesome violence aside, "The Following" was familiar enough where most TV-goers should be able to get interested and yet provocative enough to hold them for an extended run.  I for one, will be following "The Following," at least to see where it goes from here.

Follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli and at TomSantilli.com.

About the author SurvivorTom

SurvivorTom

Tom Santilli is a respected journalist and member of the Detroit Film Critics Society.  He writes several on-line columns, most notably as the Detroit Movie Examiner and the Survivor Examiner for Examiner.com.  He also is a contributor as a Survivor-Insider to TVGeekArmy.com and writes exclusive Survivor in-depth episode analysis for TheTVKing.com. He has been featured on Rob Cesternino's "Rob Has a Podcast" and most recently landed the only exclusive Richard Hatch interview given since his latest legal trouble has surfaced. All of Tom's Survivor coverage as well as movie reviews can be found on his blog the "FilmSurvivor", at FilmSurvivor.com

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