January 29, 2013

THE SKED’S PILOT + 1 REVIEW: “The Following”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.’

Previously… on THE FOLLOWING:  8 years ago, the gothic literature professor–his specialty is Poe–and serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) grotesquely murdered a great many people before finally being captured by FBI Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon).  The hunt for Carroll broke Hardy, who left the Bureau and became an alcoholic.  Also, after Carroll was arrested and he was divorced by his wife Claire (Natalie Zea), Hardy and Claire had an affair, a fact of which Carroll is well aware.  Over the ensuing years, Carroll has been using the internet to gather around him a cult of psychopaths, all of whom are thrilled to commit murder on his behalf, and now he has a series of sadistic, violent games planned for Hardy and Claire to endure.  First up:  Carroll’s own son’s nanny is part of his cult, and he’s ordered her to kidnap the boy.

Episode 2:  We pick up just where we left off, with Hardy desperately working to find Claire’s son.  Since the pilot, the show has added a new regular cast member:  Annie Parisse as FBI Agent Debra Parker, head of the Bureau’s “alternative religion” (aka cult) division.  The episode, written by series creator Kevin Williamson and directed by pilot director Marcos Siega, explored the background of the nanny, who called herself Denise but who was actually named Emma (Valorie Curry).  Emma murdered her obnoxious mother at Carroll’s behest, and–also at Carroll’s instigation–entered into a romance with one of the men who played a “gay” couple, neighbors to the one survivor of Carroll’s original murder spree whom Hardy thought he’d saved, until her trusted gay pals helped murder her in the pilot.  The Bureau discovered Emma’s old house, which was packed with Poe and Carroll-related design, as well as the decaying body of Emma’s mother.  In addition, Carroll sent Jordy (Steve Monroe), a former prison guard, after Claire–not so much to kill her as to force Hardy to kill Jordy.  However, Jordy didn’t die, and Hardy will be able to question him in the next episode.

The Following is the strongest attempt yet by a broadcast network to capture the kind of intensity we now associate with cable crime drama.  The show is frankly scary and violent, and with a bit more profanity, it could fit in quite well on FX.  It’s still somewhat unclear how the series is expected to work over the long term (the implication is that Carroll has a wide nationwide network of crazies, but at this point, only 3 of his disciples are regular cast members), or what kind of overarching plan Carroll has for his killings that will keep the series from feeling, after a while, like a guest-star-psycho-of-the-week show.  Also, the new disciple who kills people while wearing an Edgar Allen Poe mask feels like a jokier kind of killer than we’d seen to this point (more like someone out of Williamson’s Scream), which could indicate issues of tone down the road.  For now, however, it’s all working quite well.

The cast brings a great deal of shading to roles that for now have limited dimension.  Bacon is believably burnt-out and grimly determined, and Zea is strong both as the worried mother in the present-day scenes and the relieved ex-wife in flashbacks.  Annie Parisse is a Law & Order veteran who’s no stranger to the show’s crisp, no-nonsense style.  It would have been nice if Williamson had conceived of Carroll as a bit less of a Hannibal Lecter clone, but he’s certainly charismatically wacko enough as played by Purefoy.  Curry, too, is turning in impressively unhinged work as the show’s version of a lunatic magic pixie dream girl.

The Following got off to a good start in the ratings last week, and the second episode did nothing to diminish the tone or promise of the pilot.  It remains to be seen if Williamson has a master plan that will keep the show going as episodes start mounting up (although the fact that he’s a creator of The Vampire Diaries, still one of the most ingeniously plotted series on the air well into its 4th season, gives one hope).  As long as network viewers are willing to accept its darkness and violence, The Following could be a sustained hit.


PILOT + 1:  There’s Finally Something To Watch On Monday Nights

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."