22/01/2013 15:53 | By Dan Owen, contributor, MSN TV

The Following review: Kevin Bacon drama hampered by clichés

TV review: In The Following, Kevin Bacon plays an FBI agent purusing a serial killer. Is this series worthy of the hype?

Kevin Bacon in The Following (© Kevin Bacon in The Following. Image. Sky)


The Following is a psychological thriller created by Scream's Kevin Williamson. It stars Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy, an FBI Agent who's called back into action to pursue notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (played by British actor, James Purefoy).

Carroll escapes Death Row to continue his crimes, aided by a network of twisted followers and sick devotees.


For a pilot episode short on earned and credible surprises, a notable death towards the end certainly made me raise an eyebrow.


The surprise of the teaser was ruined by Purefoy's recognisable face - even if you're unaware of his previous work (Rome, for example), you surely know he's the baddie in this!

Full review

The reasons to give The Following a chance firstly stem from the stellar lead actors - James Purefoy is a solid casting decision. And, given his cinematic pedigree, A-lister Kevin Bacon (Footloose, Apollo 13, X-Men: First Class) is a mouth-watering one.

In addition, there's writer Kevin Williamson's involvement. He revitalised slasher movies with 1996 hit Scream and he's masterminded The Vampire Diaries, the feverishly fast-paced popular TV series.

For those three reasons, I was poised to enjoy The Following despite its contrived premise, but it struggled to overcome the trappings and clichés of its genre.

The pilot felt like a straight-to-video movie that happened to land big name actors.

"I was poised to enjoy The Following despite its contrived premise."

In the opener, we learn that Joe Carroll is a psychopathic literary professor with a fanatical interest in Edgar Allen Poe.

He murdered 14 female students before being captured by Ryan Hardy. Now our washed-up, Vodka-drinking, guilt-ridden FBI agent has been brought in from the cold to do it all over again.

The corny script didn't seem to realise audiences have been fed similar pap for decades now.

Pity the poor actress saddled with this expository psychobabble:

"Carroll's using Poe's work as a religion. He's speaking to people through Gothic Romanticism. There's a pathology to today's internet techno-bred minds.

He's created a vacancy in our humanity. Find the ones with additional disorders, jackpot. Enter a handsome, charismatic man who can touch them, make them feel their lives for the first time. He conditions them. The only way to truly live is to kill."

I commend her for keeping a straight face.

Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy in The Following (© Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy in The Following. Image.Sky)

The Following's weaknesses

So we have a serial killer scholar, eh? Oh, like Hannibal Lecter. A murderer who bases his kills on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe? Only last year The Raven hit cinemas with the same concept.

Armchair psychology about the eyes being "the windows to the soul"? Give me a break; we've heard it all countless times before.

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And that's the key problem with The Following: it's simply nowhere near as fresh and exciting as it thinks it is. The show's few unique elements also require a heavy suspension of disbelief.

We're asked to accept that this murderous former English teacher amassed hundreds of dedicated fans via weekly web access from a prison library.

The type of people who would gladly stab themselves in the eye after receiving a prompt from their hero by text message.

I can perhaps accept that charismatic Carroll could hold sway over people he comes into physical contact with, but via e-mail he's built himself a network of wannabe serial killers and loyal aides? Preposterous.

It wouldn't matter too much if The Following was crammed with edge-of-your-seat craziness and wit, but Purefoy wasn't unhinged enough as the villain and Bacon can't do more than go through the motions with his stereotyped loner who "doesn't play well with others".

The moment Ryan reached for his Vodka bottle, my heart sank while my mind recalled a very similar scene in Charlie Brooker cop spoof, A Touch of Cloth. Are there no well-adjusted lawmen around?

On the plus side, it's mildly interesting that Hardy has a pacemaker (so he is risking his life being out in the field again), and I really liked the idea of Carroll's wife Claire (Justified's Natalie Zea) having had an affair with Hardy because it gives them a deeper personal rivalry.

But those are slim pickings.

In America, The Following's US network Fox has defended the show against accusations of glorifying violence for entertainment purposes. And yes, it has its fair share of gore, but viewers shouldn't let that distract them from the holes in the plot.

This drama may end up replicating the BBC's Ripper Street (which also sparked complaints about violence). There, a weak opening episode was followed by stronger instalments. Then again, it may not.

The performances felt too inhibited amidst the B-movie ludicrousness of it all, and the script was hampered by leaden ideas and clichés.

The Following is enticing as a prospect and nicely executed (forgive the pun), but the premise stretches beyond plausibility.

  • Verdict: Blood and gore and shocks galore, but The Following needs a decent script too.

    Star grade

What other reviewers said

Digital Spy - "Even beyond the one-note characters, the show indulges in far too many tried-and-tested horror tropes."

The Telegraph - "The plot raced on, without deviation from predictable horror fare, until the surprise ending."

What people on Twitter said

‏‏@boydhilton (Boyd Hilton from Heat magazine) - "Sky Atlantic missed a trick by not scheduling A Touch Of Cloth straight after tonight's premiere of The Following."

‏@forrest_keith - "How fantastic was The Following on Sky Atlantic. Top cast and looks set to be amazing series."

@richmorgan09 - "The Following on Sky Atlantic. Very promising first episode - think it'll be a good one. #thefollowing"

The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft

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