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Is ‘The Following’ a bloody mess?

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
February 6, 2013
Filed under 4Play

Kevin Williamson, the man behind the hit television series “The Vampire Diaries,” recently shrunk his Bacon number via his new crime thriller on FOX, “The Following.”

On the surface, “The Following” seems to be yet another volume in a long line of literary crime thrillers. Like Brad Pitt’s character in “Se7en,” Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon, must hunt down a serial killer intent on making his crimes personal to his pursuers. Like the killer in the 2012 film “The Raven,” this murderer is obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe.

Hardy has already successfully apprehended this murderer once before and written a successful novel about the events. However, this time around, it’s revealed that the serial killer has a cult of murderous acolytes willing to shed not only the blood of others, but theirs as well in order to complete his vision.

One of the series’ most glaring flaws is its cliche premise. It does little to separate itself from the aforementioned films, and relies on elements derived from classic crime dramas such as “The Silence of the Lambs” in order to make its otherwise bland cast of characters seem interesting.

Hardy is an underdog: a flawed hero looking for redemption. The antagonist is charismatic yet undeniably evil.  There are damsels in need of saving. The show does little to develop these characters apart from the archetypes they represent.

The plot is very predictable. Victims are introduced and dispatched in an efficient manner similar to the victims in a teen slasher flick. Certain characters seem like they’re hiding secrets, and though the series is only into its third week of airing, it’s safe to assume they are. The plot twists constantly, in a predictable way that begs viewers to feel suspense but fails to deliver.

The series opens with a guitar riff sampled from gothic-industrial-rock musician Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Like Manson’s music, “The Following” acts as a looking glass through which the violent nature of American youth culture can be criticized.

Entertainment critics from The Huffington Post and The Independent have already begun the discussion as to whether or not “The Following” is another entry in a vast continuum of gratuitously violent works America has offered up in recent years.

This discussion leads to one of my biggest concerns regarding the series. The show’s villain-at-large, Dr. Joe Carrol, enlists a number of young rejects to aid in murdering his victims. He finds these young people online while in prison. Like another famous Manson, Carroll preys on dejected souls and brainwashes them into committing horrible acts.

One of the most prominent members of Carroll’s following is Emma Hill, played by newcomer Valorie Curry. The second episode, “Chapter Two,” spends a great deal of time developing Emma’s character. Misunderstood by her aloof mother, Emma seeks refuge in Carroll’s writing.

After he’s arrested for his initial murder spree, Emma visits him. He sets up a romantic relationship between her and another member of his following. This romantic interest acts as an accomplice in the murder of Emma’s mother. After meeting Carroll and murdering her mother, Emma feels her life has meaning.

The concern is the way the show humanizes these dejected youth. They aren’t parodies of the violent subconscious of youth culture, nor are they portrayed as exceptionally insane. They’re misguided, confused characters who lack the understanding of consequence necessary to keep them from committing these violent and insane crimes. Yes, they’re villains, but it’s easy to feel remorse for them.

It’s also easy to imagine an equally misguided youth relating to the villains of this show rather than the protagonist. I feel a certain anxiety when thinking of this prospect in relation to the types of teens who flocked to Marilyn Manson shows in the 90s. Hopefully the show addresses the consequences of the violence portrayed in future episodes.

The show features superb acting. Bacon’s celebrity allows him to dominate the small screen in a way the cinema doesn’t. Despite the hokey, cliched nature of his character, James Purefoy proves to be an extremely formidable villain.

His portrayal of Dr. Joe Carroll is along the same lines as Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. Purefoy purrs his lines in a subtle British accent, and it’s hard not to feel the same anger and annoyance that Hardy feels toward the situation.

“The Following” features better dialogue than a lot of televised dramas do. The characters, as one-dimensional as they may be, speak and converse like one would expect of normal people. This helps add grounding to an otherwise melodramatic plot.

It’s hard to tell this early  whether or not “The Following” will turn out to be as intriguing  as “24” or if it’ll fall flat like last season’s “Alcatraz.” However, like “Alcatraz,” the initial episodes of the series show much promise — if for anything else the chance to see more Kevin Bacon.

“The Following” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.