Do we really need another show about serial killers? After so many Criminal Minds and Luthers and Dexters and Mentalists, can’t we all just agree to stop beating this ritually murdered horse? Of course we can’t. We’re sick, sick people.
In keeping with our national obsession, we get The Following, a show about an escaped serial killer (played by James Purefoy), and his cat-and-mouse game with a retired, alcoholic FBI profiler (played by Kevin Bacon). The show’s hook is that Purefoy’s character has formed a cult of serial killers – which could easily turn into a statement about TV audiences as a whole, worshiping at the altar of megalomaniacs, jonesing for the next brutal killing. But Williamson decides to put aside (for most of the episode) his obnoxious self-referencing in favor of a tense, bleak, character-driven hour of television, (helmed by veteran TV director Marcos Siega), all orbiting around Bacon’s almost too-cinematic performance.
Oftentimes, veteran film actors use their move to the small screen as an opportunity to phone it in. Bacon, however, hasn’t had the chance to hog this much screen time in years, so he attacks every scene as if he’s got something to prove. The result is electric, easily one of the strongest performances I’ve ever seen in a network pilot (Jason Isaacs’ performance in Awake is another that comes to mind).
But, for all of the show’s stylistic merits and bold, confident strides, it trips up in the last scene, deciding to rest its laurels on a Purefoy monologue that is as over-the-top in performance as it is in cheap, meaningless self awareness. It’s a shame, because both Bacon’s performance and Siega’s natural direction seem so much at odds with Williamson’s smarmy monologue.
While, on the whole, I very much enjoyed myself while watching this pilot, I couldn’t help but feel how deeply unessential it was. The show makes a strong case for its lead actor, its director, even its writer (when he’s not too busy trying to be clever), but it never really makes a case for its concept. The Following never gives me any reason to want yet another show about serial killers.