There are so many twists and turns in Fox’s new drama “The Following” you’ll wonder when the story threads will start fraying.
They don’t in the first episode – that’s where every character brings a little of the exposition and lets Kevin Bacon look like a haggard FBI agent -- but they show signs when he's pulled back into service when a serial killer breaks out of prison.
The two apparently have a shared history (Bacon’s character even wrote a book about the guy) but it takes several episodes to really get a sense of the relationship.
Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a former college professor, was found guilty of 14 murders. He didn’t stop there. Thanks to a charismatic personality, he has managed to control the actions of dozens – maybe hundreds of others. Out of prison, he goes on another spree and before you even get a chance to understand the story, a woman’s poking her own eyes out.
Part Greek tragedy, part “Silence of the Lambs” offspring, “The Following” has an intriguing premise that almost rises above its layered plotting.
Creator Kevin Williamson doesn’t just introduce characters interested in stopping the killings, he plants doubt with everyone who has a piece of the action. Could those two guys living next door to Carroll’s last victim be followers? What about the agents working with Bacon’s Ryan Hardy? The ex-wife? The gung-ho disciple? No one’s immune – not even the man doing the investigating.
And that could hold interest throughout the first season but “The Following” needs something more to carry it into years four, five and six.
Even Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter couldn’t extend his reach to a second or third film.
Initially, though, Purefoy is as creepy as they come. He stares down his prey, delights in a bloodbath and appears to have a connection with Hardy that could take years to fully understand.
Heavy-handed music helps the plotting and a supporting cast (led by a very good Shawn Ashmore) keeps us guessing.
While Bacon is clearly entering his Kiefer Sutherland phase with this series, he’s a little too world-weary for his own good. That chest scar, the ravaged face suggest we’ve got lots of stories to hear.
But, really, “The Following” is one of those ideas that might have been better in a two-hour film.
Williamson’s real feat will be retaining interest week in and week out. Carroll’s infatuation with Edgar Allan Poe could provide plenty of clues to his behavior. But that would require more research than most viewers are willing to do.
The first episode – slated to air next week – is extremely violent and bloody. It sets up the premise and pulls us in. The real problem is developing a following. That might take time.