If you've had your TV set to CTV or Fox, or been to a movie theater in the last month or so, "The Following" has been shoved down your throat. Hard. And despite the desire to not give in, all it takes is the first few minutes of the pilot and -- bam! We're sucked in.
Kevin Williamson may be synonymous with teenage horror stories -- the "Scream" movies, "The Vampire Diaries," "Dawson's Creek" -- but his latest creation, "The Following," is as grown-up as it gets.
Aside from appearances as himself ("Will & Grace," "Bored to Death"), Kevin Bacon hasn't been on the small screen since his pre-"Footloose" days as Tim Werner on "Guiding Light" (back when it was called "The Guiding Light"). But Bacon saw first-hand how great a TV gig is, thanks to his wife, Kyra Sedgwick, so he decided to follow (sorry) her to television. And, boy, oh boy, it's quite the return, one reminiscent of Kiefer Sutherland's run as Jack Bauer on "24" (and Fox is hoping lightning strikes twice).
Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who is brought out of retirement when the biggest serial killer he ever put behind bars escapes from prison in as bloody a way as one can escape (think more T-Bag than Michael Scofield). Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, "Rome") plays the infamous killer, but we soon learn his escape is just the beginning of a sick and twisted revenge plot. Hence, the cult of serial killers he recruits to follow/worship him.
The team of federal agents Hardy finds himself working with/for -- Shawn Ashmore ("X-Men") as Agent Mike Weston, guest star Billy Brown ("Dexter") as Agent Reilly, Annie Parisse ("Person of Interest") as FBI Specialist Debra Parker (she debuts in episode two) -- are likable enough, and Ryan's connection to Joe's ex-wife, Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea, "Dirty Sexy Money") adds a whole other element. But it's the relationship between the two men, the agent and the killer, the hunter and the hunted, the writer and his subject, that drives this story. Carroll's failure as an author has driven him to create a real-life tale, which focuses on killing as a sign of living with Hardy as his lead character, the reluctant hero. His inspiration? Edgar Allen Poe, particularly the premise that "insanity is art."
There's a third component in "The Following," which has to do with his son (who looks more like Hardy than Carroll, hmmm) and three of Joe's disciples, but that's all I'll say about that. All you need to know is "The Following" isn't your average procedural. This is character-driven stuff, complete with flashbacks and backstories that are seamless and fascinating and, most importantly, make sense in the narrative.
Tonight's pilot is a non-stop, creepy, watch-from-behind-a-pillow fare, and the second episode, "Chapter," slows down -- but not by much. In fact, it was just enough since my heart was still racing from the first edge-of-your-seat hour.
In the coming weeks, expect the usual games of cat-and-mouse, but with the odd killing (or 10) each episode. If it's any consolation, it's not always eye-stabbing ickiness; sometimes it's pouring gasoline on the next victim and setting them ablaze in public in broad daylight. But it's more than a "Criminal Minds" episode (not to knock "Criminal," by any means); "The Following" just plays more like a movie of the week, every week. So if "Silence of the Lambs" is what you want to watch every Monday night, then "The Following" is the show for you. You freaks.
"The Following" debuts Monday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m. EST on CTV/Fox.