I would have enjoyed this show more if it contained a plot I could suspend disbelief for. I’m a big fan of James Purefoy, so I’ve been looking forward to this show for months.
Complicated back-stories reaching back several years works for fictional fantasy worlds like Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. It often doesn’t work so well for urban crime fiction. Can you imagine visiting the childhood of Patrick Bateman in flashbacks of American Psycho? It’s unnecessary and it muddies the storytelling with an effort to make the tale seem larger than it is or to add depth to an overly-simplistic plot. An exception to that is the Hannibal series by Thomas Harris, but those are in a category of their own anyway.
The Following would have worked much better as a supernatural thriller. Kevin Bacon simply informing the audience in reminiscent dialogue that Joe Carroll (the serial killer villain, played by James Purefoy) is a gifted, mesmerizing teacher and cult figurehead was careless writing. I understand that the writing has to conform to a strictly-timed format and the segments are limited, but I saw no evidence of Joe Carroll’s great charisma in either the writing or the portrayal. Aside from the facts that (1) it would be very unlikely that Joe Carroll could find a single follower willing to kill for him and that (2) psychopaths generally do not function that way; Carroll finding a group of followers willing and societally able to dedicate years of their lives perpetuating lifestyle facades to get close to his “unfinished masterpiece” and help him murder her would be… astronomical.
Not like finding a needle in a haystack astronomical, but like finding a single specific needle in a stack of needles the size of Oregon.
That’s not to say you can’t write a show about a conspiracy of murderers colluding for a single purpose and make it work, because you can. Look at The Omen. Look at The Wicker Man, or Rosemary’s Baby. See a pattern yet?
As soon as it became apparent that there were conspirators working with Joe Carroll and the whole cult framework reared its head, I began to think of Lord of Illusions. More than a few themes of The Following closely mirror Lord of Illusions, but without the supernatural element. To be honest, I’m a little puzzled as to why they decided to leave that element out. It would have explained so much and also neatly dispensed with the faulty psychology holding the large-scale cult plot together. Why does a cult of aspiring serial killers pull together to follow this man? He’s a demon. See? That makes sense now.
But Joe Carroll is no Nix and The Following is too far-fetched to be labeled serious or gritty, though it certainly qualifies as a thriller. Sadly, since I was not feeling any of the characters, the first episode succeeded neither as a relationship-driven story or a horror story for me, but I always give new shows 3 episodes to prove out. Here’s hoping.
Another thing: I laid bets with a friend a few weeks ago that the chosen victims of The Following were going to be attractive young women. Corpses of the week, basically, picked for no other logical reason than being pretty. I know that conforms to the Poe connection the killer has, but it’s careless and it’s creepy and smacks of deliberate construction to serve an unpalatable purpose, like killing pretty women onscreen is more liable to garner an audience than offing truckdrivers or something. I was let down to win that bet. I hope I don’t win it next week.
If you watch TV crime shows for the actors, urban settings, and mature writing without being too critical, then watch The Following, because there’s some nifty camera work, hues, and music choices in there. Otherwise, it’s a lot of shock value for not enough payoff. Only you can decide if that works for you.
But I’m going to watch it next week, because I still have hope for it and, hello, James Purefoy. 🙂