‘The Following’ is a real creepshow

By Rich Heldenfels Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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A fast-paced psychological thriller that follows former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, (seventh from left) played by Kevin Bacon, who is called out of retirement to track down Joe Carroll (fourth from left) played by James Purefoy, in the new drama The Following on Fox. From left are Nico Tortorella, Valorie Curry, Adan Canto, Carroll, Natalie Zea, Kyle Catlett, Bacon, Shawn Ashmore and Annie Parisse. (Michael Lavine/FOX)

The Following is not only a thriller in the manner of Silence of the Lambs but a meditation on modern terrorism, on the idea that anyone you know could prove to be a menace, that death is always possible, that you are never safe.

An executive at Fox, which is airing the series, has proclaimed it the next 24, and it is, right down to the damaged hero (Kiefer Sutherland in the earlier series, Kevin Bacon here). But The Following is much bloodier, and more unsettling, even if — like 24 — it asks the audience to accept some ludicrous and less-than-surprising plot turns along the way.

Premiering at 9 p.m. Monday, the series stars Bacon as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent whose greatest accomplishment (and last satisfaction) came a decade ago. It was then that he caught Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a brilliantly twisted serial killer, though not before Carroll had left more than a dozen victims behind. As the series begins, Carroll escapes and Hardy is brought back to help catch him. But it soon enough turns out that Carroll has been doing more than sitting in a prison cell; he has disciples seemingly everywhere, all as eagerly murderous as Carroll himself.

Hardy is accordingly drawn back into Carroll’s orbit, meeting with the killer, pursuing his acolytes, trying to keep there from being more victims. The task not only brings up things from Hardy’s past, it involves constant frustration; one can easily see that series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, Vampire Diaries) wanted a framework for the story that could last many seasons.

Bacon is effective enough, Purefoy hammy. (I suspect he studied Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter too closely.) The cast also includes Natalie Zea as Carroll’s ex-wife, Annie Parisse as the leader of the FBI investigation and Shawn Ashmore as a young FBI agent who is a Hardy fan — almost as devout as Carroll’s followers. Other characters appear as well, though you never can be sure for how long, or what their agendas may be; by the fourth episode, a lot of time is being spent with various members of Carroll’s crew.

The violence in this is as brutal as any I have seen in a broadcast network TV series, and there are some narrative shocks. But a reasonably suspicious viewer will be ahead of the characters even in the early going, and in later episodes, there is at least one “oh, come on” moment. After four telecasts, it began to wear on me; I wished it was a miniseries ready to wrap up instead of a series with many more episodes to go. Still, I remained curious about what surprises lay ahead.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio,com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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