Published Jan 16, 2014Like one of those paperback thrillers adorning the racks at drug stores everywhere, The Following manages to be absorbing even as it regularly steps over the line into the preposterous with all of its outlandish twists and turns. It's the television equivalent of a guilty-pleasure page-turner, now made readily available for binge-watching from the comforts of home. Combining the two sides of creator Kevin Williamson that we have come to expect, the show it at its best when the man who brought us Scream deals nail-biting suspense, but sags under the weight of some overwrought melodrama that recalls his other work in The Vampire Diaries and even Dawson's Creek.
Retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is still being tortured by the memory of putting serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) behind bars when he is forced back into action by the sudden news of Carroll's escape. Heavily influenced by the work of Edgar Allan Poe, Carroll is a former literary professor who begins a cat-and-mouse game with Hardy to both enact revenge and serve as the basis for a new novel he is writing.
The biggest hurdle stopping Carroll's impossibly elaborate plan to be reunited with his son Joey and ex-wife Claire — who became romantically involved with Hardy during the investigation — is that the killer has risen to the status of cult leader while in prison and now has a group willing to do his dirty work. This consists of many wayward souls embracing the supposed beauty of murder after falling victim to Carroll's magnetic charm. Chief among them is the tumultuous love triangle of Joey's nanny, Emma, and her boyfriend, who finds himself sexually confused after posing as a gay man for two years as part of Carroll's grand design.
The almost uniformly excellent performances, especially those of Bacon and Purefoy in the lead roles, help keep the action halfway credible even as it threatens to fly off the rails at any moment. Bacon conveys the weariness and honed instincts that years surrounded by death has developed while Purefoy effortlessly switches from seductive to terrifying with a single look; the scenes the two share together are scintillating. All of the actors can only do so much, though, to distract from story threads and characters that are consistently and maddeningly implausible.
There is a nice selection of supplemental material to help gain more insight into the first season, from deleted scenes, production diaries and featurettes on various details like set design and the construction of the creepy Poe masks used by Carroll's followers. Delving into these reveals how Bacon nixed a limp for his character in favor of a heart condition because he didn't want to potentially lurch around for many seasons and, in a commentary track, Williamson cops to some bad FBI work that he was justifiably lambasted for online and promises to not make the same mistakes in the second season. (Warner)