Monday, January 28, 2013

Television Review: The Following

***SPOILERS WITHIN, but maybe not too many***

I watched the new FOX show The Following the other night and it made enough of an impression on me that I wanted to write some stuff.

Also, to be clear, I had planned on watching the show even before I knew fellow ESO Network host Bobby Nash was in it. For approximately eight-tenths of a second. But I’ll get to his vital role in the show in a bit.

Side Note: As with most things I review, I will be calling characters by the actors’ names. I can’t usually remember a character’s name until at least the third season.

The show stars Kevin Bacon as a retired FBI agent who gets called back into the field to consult when a serial killer he put away breaks out of jail. The killer is played by James Purefoy, who I recognize but couldn’t tell you from what. The reason the FBI has to call Bacon’s character out of retirement is that the FBI is staffed with fucking dum-dums. The local police are not any better. I’ll get to that.
            Years ago Kevin Bacon apprehended James Purefoy, a serial killer who focused on college girls and was obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. The story is told in flashbacks over the course of the episode. Usually this annoys the shit out of me and makes me not want to watch/read things. Certain people can get away with time jumps – Quentin Tarrantino and… probably some others. But generally it comes off as amateurish and a lack of poor storytelling or pacing skills. For the purposes of this narrative it worked well.

Kevin Bacon was great as the abrasive former agent who had never gotten over the horrible things he had seen and failed to stop for so long. When he is awakened by the FBI Director’s call for help, he showers, gets dressed, and funnels vodka into a water bottle to take with him. Dude has issues and we get a feel for them throughout the episode. There’s more doing than telling, which I appreciate. There were a few instances of other characters using dialogue to characterize Bacon, but for the most part we got to see how broken he was through his own actions.

Purefoy was fine as the serial killer. Not amazing, but I think we’ll see more as the show progresses. For some reason I just don’t find him all that threatening or sinister. But that might just be me. And it wasn’t really a problem – like Bacon’s character, Purefoy’s actions did most of the talking. Our introduction to his deeds comes by way of a particularly brutal murder scene from his prison escape. Four guards are strewn about a security station, practically eviscerated. It was an impressive amount of gore for network TV, but didn’t feel gratuitous. It was there to make a point, and it worked. This guy is horrible and dangerous.

Bacon is brought onto the crime scene and officially referred to as a consultant. He can’t be an active agent anymore because Purefoy stabbed him in the heart during his capture and he has a pacemaker now. During the initial portion of the investigation we are introduced to a slew of characters and the first real miracle this show worked is that I remember them all distinctly and am interested in getting to know each and every one of them.

Shawn Ashmore plays a younger agent who considers Bacon to be a hero for how he single-handedly apprehended Purefoy. He first meets Bacon at a briefing taking place in FBI HQ and it isn’t quite as magical as he had hoped it would be, but that doesn’t deter his hero worship. He even defends Bacon to another agent later on, which promises an interesting dynamic for the future.

Speaking of the FBI briefing, this is where we meet Agent Robert Edwards, played by Bobby Nash. Agent Edwards is an agent with a thirst for adventure and a dedication to the job like no other. He has just returned from an undercover assignment involving a prostitution ring that was the cover for a drug-smuggling ring. He had barely shaken off the identity of billionaire cheese magnate Jedediah Randolph when the escape of the Poe killer came to his attention. A quick walk by the briefing gave him all the information he needed to start his own investigation. It might be against protocol, but if Agent Edwards believed in mottos, his would be “Fuck protocol right in its dirty little ear”. His role in things remains to be seen…

Side Note: That is all pure nonsense I made up. I think that’s the last we’ll see of Agent Edwards; much to the show’s detriment.

There is a female FBI agent who is wonderfully bitchy and is foiled at every attempt she makes to control Bacon’s actions. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching those two clash over the next fourteen episodes.
Purefoy’s wife is instantly likeable and sympathetic. She’s tough and has spent the last eight years building her own life and getting on with things. Also, she has been raising their son.

***POSSIBLE SPIOILER***
This kid is clearly Kevin Bacon’s son. It has not been stated yet, but I’m sure it will be. We also do not know if Kevin Bacon knows. Or if James Purefoy knows, for that matter.
 
Maggie Grace plays the Final Girl. The one that survived Purefoy. She has gone on to become a doctor and has mostly gotten over it. I mean, as much as you could get over somebody trying to murder you after you watched them murder your roommate. Her performance during the trial is heart-wrenching. I really felt for her character.

Side Note: I recognized Grace but couldn’t quite place her. Mrs. Troublemaker told me she was the sister of that one dude from Lost. I thought for a second and sort of shrugged. Then, later on when the character took her shirt off I was like, “Oh – the one in the bikini. I recognize her now.”

We also meet – and this is no spoiler because the premise of the show is based on it and it’s right there in the title – Purefoy’s recruits, or followers. I won’t say who they are, but it’s kind of surprising when you find out. Well, about three of them anyway. One is obvious and she is responsible for possibly the most disturbing scene in the episode. 
 
I think one of the factors that made The Following a little more impactful for me was that the things that were horrifying were treated as horrifying. There were no cute little musical stings, people didn’t crack jokes, and each instance of violence was treated as a serious tragedy. This added greatly to the drama of the show and the impact of Purefoy’s actions. There was almost a tangible loss attached to each crime. Especially the final one. The casting there was brilliant because it fooled me into thinking it wouldn’t happen.

The only major problem I had was how stupid everybody but Kevin Bacon seemed to be. There’s this one part where they’re investigating Purefoy’s escape and the exchange is basically this:

FBI Personnel: “Well, we let the vicious mass-murderer visit a local public library with                                              internet access once a week.”
Kevin Bacon:   “You people are borderline retarded. That was a terrible idea. Obviously                                          he was recruiting other crazy people to make an army of crazy people.”
FBI Personnel: “No way, dude. We had firewalls.”
Kevin Bacon:   “You have got to be kidding me.”
FBI Personnel: “Ooh… shit… our bad.”

And then they all flipped out and ran around like Tom when he realizes the steaming hot teakettle is about to fall on that bulldog’s head.

There was one other scene where a US Marshal is kind of like, “Well, I guess he (Purefoy’s character) got away. I’m gonna go make me a Reuben,” and Kevin Bacon starts screaming in the dude’s face to track the GPS or pull up satellites or do whatever the fuck they had to in order to keep more people from being slaughtered by this lunatic. But everybody else acted like Kevin Bacon was being unreasonable. I agreed with Kevin Bacon. His response was to walk around the side of the house and smash some lawn furniture, which I thought was a fairly understandable reaction.

What I saw in the pilot was enough to get me to come back. It had a cinematic feel that lent credibility to the drama on screen. All of the characters were interesting and I want to see more of them, which is kind of the main thing. The narrative is definitely compelling and can carry on for at least the fourteen promised episodes. And honestly, that’s one of the biggest draws for me – we’re getting fourteen straight weeks of the show. 
 
I am sick and tired of the way network shows currently work. We get about eight episodes in the fall, then a show will return for maybe three, have two weeks off, come back for two more, and on like that. It’s fucking irritating. The idea that we’re going to be able to sit down and enjoy a weekly episodic narrative for over three months is very appealing.

I say you should watch The Following. It’s creepy and suspenseful and the cast is great. I’m sure you can catch the pilot either online or OnDemand. Give it a chance. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, but the premise is awesome and if things continue to be handled well we could really get a special television series out of this one.

-Phantom

4 comments:

  1. Thanks, man. Your characterization of Agent Edwards is pretty spot on. And we will see more of my character, just not on this show, but in the pages of a couple of novels. Stay tuned.

    It was a fun set. I was there for the command center scenes (including ice pick girl) and the team descending on the guard's house. Sadly, my screentime was really short for being there 3 days, but it was cool.

    The female agent, who was in charge (supposedly) is only in the pilot. She's replaced in episode two.

    I'm curious to see where it goes.

    Bobby

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    1. After the second episode I still like it. And I still don't find James Purefoy all that menacing. Or enthralling. But maybe it's because we've mostly just seen him after he's already been busted and doesn't have to be charming and stuff anymore. I dunno. Glad you liked my peek into Edwards' past!

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  2. I love your reviews! This was hilarious and insightful. I also have to say I kinda recognized Maggie Grace but didn’t really place her as being from LOST until pretty much the same second you did. I really enjoyed the second episode, so I’m looking forward to reading your review of it, too. I work at DISH and was watching with some of my coworkers, and we’re all pretty impressed with Kevin Bacon, who plays Hardy as wonderfully damaged. Now, I love watching in a big group, but I do tend to miss a few things. Luckily the show airs on one of the big four networks during primetime, so my DISH Hopper records it with PrimeTime Anytime. Because of that, I was able to re-watch it this morning before work to catch everything I missed the first time around.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I don't think I'll be doing reviews of further episodes - the pilot just gave me some thoughts. I might do some kind of mid-season update, though. And if it gets terrible I'll certainly mention it.

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