FOX is known for high-octane action dramas that are also about good storytelling. In THE FOLLOWING, premiering this Monday at 9 p.m. ET, not only does it follow in this proud traditional, but it uses a well-known group of actors and a seasoned creator, Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek, The Vampire Diaries), to deliver one of the best network series in the genre to date.
As the story opens, after a suitably intense first scene, we meet agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon, Mystic River, Apollo 13), an alcoholic, washed-up fed who once captured a notorious serial killer named Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, Rome, Resident Evil). Joe is on the loose, and with some new agents by his side (X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore, not to be confused with twin Aaron, and Law & Order’s Annie Parisse), Ryan has to track down Joe all over again.
While the hunt is on, THE FOLLOWING takes time to show us some of the previous events in a series of flashbacks. We are introduced to Sarah (Maggie Grace, Lost, Taken), the victim Ryan saved from Joe’s killing spree, and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea, Justified, The Other Guys), Joe’s wife, whom Ryan previously had a sexual relationship with, during the first go-round with Joe. Ryan checks in on them both in the present day, concerned, and hoping that they can lead him to Joe.
Other than that, it’s hard to tell you much. FOX would like me not to spoil the various plot twists that make up the hour, and after thoroughly enjoying the story, I agree that everyone should watch the episode for themselves. It’s a thrilling ride, with plenty of the unexpected happening, and it would be pretty rude to give you a heads up about those things.
This also makes it hard to talk about the series going forward, or what it will be. The story is significantly different at the end from what it appears to be at the beginning. so I can’t write about the premise very much without spoiling. So I won’t.
What THE FOLLOWING does well is set up an intense situation. As publicly released materials on the show’s official website have already revealed, the show will deal a lot with what would happen if serial killers in many different areas formed a network, rallying around a central figure. It takes an element of society that it already dangerous, and heightens the threat, with a support network helping the bad guys complete their evil missions. This is exactly what is happening.
There is also the Battlestar Galactica element of the enemy hiding among us. On that sci-fi show, the villains are Cylons, robots that look like humans, live as humans, and may not even know they aren’t humans. In THE FOLLOWING, serial killers masquerade as normal people, and like in BG, they could be anybody. This makes for a high-stakes guessing game sure to engage viewers.
Of course, we have the flawed hero in Ryan, a familiar enough trope at this point. Bacon brings something fresh to the table, though, as the latest in a string of well-respected, highly talented film stars that are transitioning to the small screen for the great roles offered. Bacon takes Ryan, and immediately sets up someone fans will get behind and root for, even as we wish we could help him through the internal and external traumas he is dealing with, forgiving him his slipups because of what he has endured.
There is a simmering tension in the air, as THE FOLLOWING makes us wonder what a person is capable of. We get both sides of the spectrum, hero and villain, both intelligent and capable, and both ripe for exploring humanity through the prism of. Obviously, Joe’s actions are heinous, but the show seeks to get into his head a bit. At the same time, Ryan has clearly taken almost all he can possibly take, but, somehow, he has to find a way to overcome his failings and be the man the public need him to be to protect them.
Ryan is starting a step behind, Joe, of course, not knowing the game is already afoot. But the chemistry between these leads is great, and surely the upper hand will go back and forth between them repeatedly over the run of the program.
What makes THE FOLLOWING even better than the typical series are the literary and artistic references. Edgar Allen Poe plays a huge role in influence, with a thumping heart beat even accompanying one scene in a brilliant way. Joe thinks that there is a beauty in the murders he commits, and while THE FOLLOWING will not glamorize or agree with Joe, we see the elements in his act that he attributes to the more noble pursuits.
In short, THE FOLLOWING works on many levels, and is extremely well put together in every category. It takes what FOX did with Prison Break and 24, testosterone-fueled dramas, and pumps it up with some braininess that elevates the game. This is a fascinating story with plenty of mystery and suspense. It should become a much-watch for many very quickly.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.