So, we're two episodes into The Following - the new serial killer series starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy - and I'm still not sure what to make of it. Is it a creepy, engaging drama? Is it a horribly derivative murder story? I think it might be a bit of both.
(Warning: spoilers from the first episodes of The Following follow.)
There is plenty to love about The Following, which is created by Kevin Williamson (the man behind the Scream franchise and, er, Dawson's Creek). Bacon is perfectly cast as Ryan Hardy, the grizzled former FBI agent who has been out of the game for a while - apparently he'd been chasing a television opportunity for a while, and he chose well; Bacon's natural affinity for playing gritty, charismatic outsiders is a great fit for the show.
He plays well off his co-stars: Purefoy brings a dark magnetism (and a British accent) to the role of serial killer Joe Carroll, his quick smile and easy rapport (oh, and that British accent) lending the character a Hannibal Lecter-esque edge, while Natalie Zea does a great job in her first role post-Justified. Annie Parisse, Billy Brown and Shawn Ashmore are nice additions to the ensemble, despite limited screen time.
The Following has a nice vibe about it, too. It gets the look and feel of a killer cult right - writing scrawled on walls, written in blood, provide a chilling locale for the many discussions about Carroll's acolytes and the various connections to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as Carroll's own obsession with the 19th century writer.
Sure, it sometimes plays a little silly, but Bacon, Purefoy and the cast sell the story enough to overcome that. And they have enough jump-scares and set pieces - the final chase scene last week, a couple of great interrogation scenes between Bacon and Purefoy, the Poe-mask guy burning a man alive in broad daylight - to make you forget that we were just listening to Purefoy say things like "I have so many more surprises for you." It's a fun, albeit occasionally laughable, watch.
Yet, for all the good that the series is doing, I can't quite bring myself to think of it as a great show. At least, not yet. Yes, I'm enjoying it. But it just seems so derivative. A talented writer Williamson might be, but The Following owes as much to The Silence of the Lambs as it does to anything else. Even worse, Purefoy seems to be essentially playing a younger, less people-eatery version of Hannibal Lecter, crossed with Charles Manson.
The intellectual serial killer is a staple of crime procedurals - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has had a few over the years, the most recent being Nate Haskell (the guy who stabbed Laurence Fishburne and did the viewers at home a favour), and something like Criminal Minds has a new one every week. Stretch out a single case on that show for 13 episodes, and the story beats wouldn't look too much different from what we're being given here. All we need is an exciting scene where the FBI agents finish each other's sentences as they break down an unsub to local law enforcement.
I'm enjoying The Following so far. The interplay between Bacon and Purefoy has been entertaining, and the story has been fun. But I'm just not sure how long that can last, or whether the cast of characters will be strong enough to keep me tuning in for long after the story gets more formulaic ("oh look, another acolyte") and loses steam.
Have you watched the first two episodes of The Following? What do you think?