The Following: Pilot Review

8 years ago serial killer Joe Carroll was caught by FBI agent Ryan Hardy. Now Carroll has escaped prison and inspired a group of serial killers to follow him.

Fans of Criminal Minds will be familiar with this much more brutal format, these murderers aren’t like the ones on CSI, they’re vicious and messy, people suffer and there’s not always a satisfyingly neat resolution for the story. For some reason Criminal Minds has never really taken off in the UK (despite ranking highly in the US, in 2010/11 it was the 10th most popular show, the only dramas rated higher were the two NCIS and The Mentalist). The Following clearly owes a lot to Criminal Minds in tone and subject, but it actually feels like it’s an evolution of that show, rather than just a shameless copy.

The set up scene at the end (which I won’t spoil) promises a fascinating and elegant set up for the structure of the series, both for episodic “serial killer of the week” and an overarching storyline to embed them in. I found myself grinning along as the details were revealed, as it all became clear how elegant the set up was. Shows like Criminal Minds and CSIs struggle at times due to the episodic nature of their “case of the week” which leaves little for an audience to get really engrossed in. If the writers of The Following play it right, they could have a multi-year show that actually encourages people to watch every week.

The performances are absolutely superb, and you expect nothing less from the type of names they’ve got, who would normally be grabbing major roles in movies. Kevin Bacon may have turned himself into a bit of a joke thanks to some miserable adverts for a phone network where he fundamentally misunderstands how his own eponymous game works, but this will remind you why he was in so many movies in the first place. Opposite him is James Purefoy, always go to the British guy who did Shakespeare for charming and chilling evildoers. Purefoy’s calculating glee opposite Bacon’s gritty angst is going to be brilliant fun to watch every week. Shawn Ashmore provides a bit of lightness and energy to the supporting cast, instantly falling into a more constructive relationship with Bacon to balance the destructiveness.

I’d been really starting to despair about this year’s new shows, nothing had grabbed my attention and many were causing me outright horror at the shoddy quality. The Following however manages to hit all the right notes, it’s got a great concept with enough material to sustain it and a great cast. It’s far from perfect, the practicalities of the set up start to look dodgy if you look too closely and the characters are pretty cliché in places, but the writers are smart enough to actually acknowledge this and that sort of self-awareness is very promising. The pilot is one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time and could easily have been a pretty decent film and I can’t wait to see how the series develops.

The Following is on Sky Atlantic on Tuesdays, Criminal Minds season 8 starts on Sky Living on Monday.

Other Reviews
Huffington Post – Ultimately, my dislike for “The Following” has less to do with its gore factor than with its essential laziness, silliness and pretentiousness.

TV Fanatic – It was an intense hour of television, one that moved at a brisk pace and featured more violence and gore than we’ve ever witnessed on network television. I loved every second of it.

Slouching Towards TV – The Following has lots of potential but it needs to prove that it can build on its premise and deliver something genuinely different without relying on the trappings of its horror origins.


2 thoughts on “The Following: Pilot Review

  1. Thansk for the link! I’m surprised at how negative some of the reviews have been. It’s a PILOT – and only a standard network hour’s worth at that – so something has to give. Some of the set-up does indeed rely on cliche and heavy-handed messages, and a lot of the supporting cast are sketched over in pretty cursory fashion, but I got to the end of it and was amazed at how much plot had been shoe-horned in.

    The one thing I would have liked to have done was to extend the final Hardy/Carroll scene to give it some air (like the Carrie/Brody confrontations in Homeland), but overall this was good stuff given the constraints imposed by a major network’s Standards & Practices department. I just hope they take this in an interesting and different direction.

  2. Pingback: The Following: Season 1 | Narrative Devices

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