Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – The Following

With 2013 coming to an end, and the new winter television schedule right around the corner, I have decided to take a break (of sorts) here on Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday.  I say “of sorts” because instead of reviewing a fresh new series, I want to feature a show that I am looking forward to returning in the 2014 TV season.

And one that I am most excited about?  The Following

In The Following, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon, um… from Footloose) must track down serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy from Rome)—again.

There’s only one problem; like most serial killers, Carroll has fans now… people who are willing to do anything to help him succeed.

It takes very little to pique my interest when a new pilot premieres on television; I’ll watch pretty much anything.  But there are a few things that instantly attract me to a new show: the concept, the actors and actresses, and the attention to detail, particularly the music.  The Following had me at “hello” if that’s even possible for a TV program.

Agent Hardy is damaged… but no one knows Carroll as well as he does.

First, the serial drama follows the “cat and mouse” game between Carroll and Hardy.  The idea of a former FBI agent with issues working to track down a demented killer he once captured is right up my alley.  Next, the series stars, as already mentioned, Hollywood great Kevin Bacon.  I can’t even remember the last time Mr. Bacon starred in a TV series, if he ever has, which tells me the storyline really captured his attention as well.  And third, the pilot episode began with Marilyn Manson’s rendition of “Sweet Dreams.”  The musical introduction of this song grabs me every time… and the lyrics fit perfectly with the Carroll/Hardy scene at the end of the pilot.

So, is The Following worth following?

For me, the answer is an astounding yes!  Although I usually prefer mysteries and whodunits, the premise of not only the “cat and mouse” game between Carroll and Hardy, but also the concept that Carroll’s crazies, or followers, who will do absolutely anything and everything to convey Carroll’s messages, is quite unique to television—and frightening, considering there are people in our world who worship some of the worst criminals for all the wrong reasons.

Carroll even looks crazy…

Viewers are immediately taken into the mind and history of the two main characters.  The protagonist, Hardy, is now a retired FBI agent, who is also a recovering alcoholic and a man fighting to stay healthy (he has a bad heart).  And the antagonist, Carroll, who’s not only a murderer, worked previously as a literature professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe.

“Carroll was obsessed with the Romantic Period… in particular, his hero, Edgar Allan Poe.  And like Poe, he believed in the insanity of art, that it had to be felt.  He didn’t just eviscerate fourteen female students, he was making art.  He cut out his victims’ eyes as a nod to his favorite works of Poe: ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Black Cat.’ See, Poe believed the eyes are our identity, windows to our soul.  To classify him (Carroll) as a picarist would be too simplistic.” ~ Hardy about Carroll to a group of FBI agents

As the pilot begins, we learn immediately that Carroll has escaped from prison and Hardy was responsible for locking him away.  But how did Hardy catch Carroll in the first place?  The Following uses a series of flashbacks to tell the backstory of these two characters.  And probably the most fascinating flashback shows us that Hardy used Carroll’s wife (Claire, played  by Natalie Zea from Justified and Californication), who also happens to be a professor, as an expert during his investigation.  Hardy had visited her on multiple occasions for help in tracking down the killer and she unknowingly led him in the direction of her own husband.  Clearly, this gives Carroll reason to haunt and torture both Hardy and Claire… and I’m sure the fact that the two shared a romantic connection doesn’t help either.

The agents react to one of the gruesome scenes left behind by one of Carroll’s followers…

The Following’s supporting cast is filled with familiar faces: Maggie Grace (the Taken movies) as Sarah, one of Carroll’s survivors; Shawn Ashmore (the X-Men movies) as FBI agent Weston; Jeananne Goossen (Alcatraz) as FBI agent Mason; and Warren Cole (Common Law) as Roderick.

I must confess, I thought the actor playing agent Weston was also the actor who plays Jinks on Warehouse 13, but it turns out it’s not—they are twin brothers!  Just a tad bit of trivia…

Oh, and if it’s even possible to fall in love with a bad guy, Roderick is that man.  But I digress…

Watching The Following is similar to enjoying a major motion picture thriller.  It’s intense, suspenseful, somewhat dark, and it keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with an occasional reason to jump out of their skin.  Toss in the Edgar Allan Poe references, who might just be my favorite poet, and I can’t help but award the Fox serial drama with the GTV rating.  Fox has themselves a groundbreaking television series, appropriate for viewing after dark with a perfectly grilled bone-in filet, steamed broccoli, and a glass of fine red wine.

ust one of the many Edgar Allan Poe references… and yes, that’s written in blood.

And just when you think the story has wrapped up, as implied during the season one finale, they leave us with just a little taste of more to come…  I can’t wait to see what The Following has in store for us in the new season!  And with almost an entirely new cast, including Connie Nielsen (Gladiator and Basic), James McDaniel (NYPD Blue), Jessica Stroup (the newer version of 90210), and Keith Carradine (Dexter and Damages)!

The Following returns in a two night event this January (Sunday the 19th and Monday the 20th).  Why we’ve had to wait so long is beyond me.  But I’ve waited this long and I can wait a few more weeks…

Oh, and I just thought the Edgar Allan Poe masks were creepy in season one.  The Joe Carroll masks in the season two commercials are even worse!

What do you think?  Have you watched The Following?  I’d love to hear from you! 

A Recap of The WatchWed Review System:

GTV (Gourmet TV): Everything we want and more
MacTV (MacNCheese TV): Guilty pleasure. Not perfect, but is satisfies
GMacTV (Gourmet MacNCheese TV): A combination of fine wine and comfort food
JFTV (Junk food TV):It’s not great for us, but we’ll go back for seconds
TBPTV (Twice Baked Potato TV): Part gourmet and delicious, while absolutely horrible for our cholesterol
SSTV (Still Simmering TV): It has potential, but the jury is still out
NIV (NyQuil Induced Viewing): Perfect for that late night television sleep timer
LOTV (Liver&Onions TV): Do we really have to explain? Blech
Inedible TV: Exactly how it sounds…

*****

Tiffany A. White is the author of the YA mystery Football Sweetheart series available on Kindle and Nook.  She is available for contact via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or via email at tiffany {at} tiffanyawhite {dot} com.

TV’s Dark Dramas

I love dark dramas… mysteries, horror, psychological thrillers, slashers, you name it.  And in the past, I’ve had to turn to the Hollywood blockbusters to catch my fair share.  But not anymore!

Television entered this dark world last year with FX’s American Horror Story.  While this program wasn’t for everyone, I certainly enjoyed it, with the sinister and twisting storylines and the supernatural elements with the hauntings and ghosts.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when the network announced the show’s renewal… but was hesitant when I learned the cast (for the most part) and story would be completely different from the first year.  And while I didn’t necessarily enjoy the second season (AHS: Asylum) as much as the first, it kept me intrigued.

Looking back, the idea was quite brilliant actually… and now I find myself anxiously awaiting season three.  Again, the plot will be different, as will some of the cast, but the idea behind AHS: Coven is right up my alley.

But as far as dark television dramas are concerned, FX’s American Horror Story is no longer alone…

The 2012-2013 TV season saw a handful of dark programs that I really enjoyed:

Fox’s The Following

NBC’s Hannibal

A&E’s Bates Motel

ABC’s 666 Park Avenue

The CW’s Cult

Granted, only three of these shows will live to see a second season (666 and Cult died early on, but luckily the networks are airing the remainder of the taped episodes this summer for those of us who actually watched and enjoyed these mysteries).  Therefore, for the sake of today’s post, we’ll just talk about the surviving three.

To me, what really stood out with all three of these television series was the acting, character development, and the writing.

First, let’s look at The Following

Viewers are immediately taken into the mind and history of the two main characters.  The protagonist, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), is now a retired FBI agent, who is also a recovering alcoholic and a man fighting to stay healthy (he has a bad heart).  Hardy’s not limited to the rules of the FBI or other law enforcement agencies.  More importantly, he doesn’t care… he will do anything to catch his guy.  He reminds me a LOT of Jack Bauer from Fox’s 24.

Then we have the antagonist, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s a former literature professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe… oh, and he’s a mass murderer.

“Carroll was obsessed with the Romantic Period… in particular, his hero, Edgar Allan Poe.  And like Poe, he believed in the insanity of art, that it had to be felt.  He didn’t just eviscerate fourteen female students, he was making art.  He cut out his victims’ eyes as a nod to his favorite works of Poe: ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Black Cat.’ See, Poe believed the eyes are our identity, windows to our soul.  To classify him (Carroll) as a picarist would be too simplistic.” ~ Hardy about Carroll to a group of FBI agents

But it’s not just that.  James Purefoy is perfect for the role of Carroll.  His charisma leaves audiences at home believing he has that special ingredient necessary to make hundreds of “crazies” follow him, thus the idea of the cult.  One moment I would feel sorry for his character, and the next, I would fear him unlike any other.  The character, and his performance, was creepy good.

Next, we have Hannibal

I personally loved the character of Will from the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon.  But then again, I adore Edward Norton.   When I truly enjoy a character and/or an actor’s performance, I can’t help but worry about the decision to re-do or continue the same character in another adaptation with a different actor at the helm.  However, I’m happy to report that I do like Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of Will Graham in NBC’s Hannibal just as much.

And since we’re talking about the films, what more can be said about Anthony Hopkins?  He will forever be Hannibal Lecter in my mind.  However, considering the TV series couldn’t land Sir Hopkins to resume his iconic role (well, maybe they could, but they didn’t), Mads Mikkelson will definitely do.  He’s got the creepiness down and he’s playing the demented sociopath quite well.

I only recently finished watching the first season, and I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed Dancy and Mikkelson as the lead characters.  But performances aside, the story is what really pulled me into this series.  It is dark, dark, dark, dark, dark… and creepy.  It’s fascinating, chilling, and intense.  The creators do not shy away from the gore; and the way the viewers get to experience the minds of both Will and Dr. Lecter via the cinematography and writing is fantastic.

And finally, we have Bates Motel

I wrapped up the first season of Bates Motel this past weekend, and much like The Following and Hannibal, the performances in this television series are what set it apart from all the other dramas on TV.

In this series, we revisit the Alfred Hitchcock favorite… only this time we see how it all began with a young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his very-much-alive mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga).  Anyone who has seen Psycho understands why Norman is how he is as an adult, but Bates Motel shows us more of the sordid relationship between mother and son.

Speaking of the relationship between mother and son… just how inappropriate is it?  Well, we haven’t seen anything sexual between the two, but we have seen Norma undress in front of Norman… as well as crawl into bed with him.  What normal parent cozies up next to their teenage son and cuddles with him for a good night sleep?  Norma.  And Norman is such a “good boy,” he’ll do anything to please his mother.

But is Norman such a good boy?  Not if we believe all the things Norma tells his older half-brother (Max Thieriot)… not if we believe all of the hallucinations Norman suffers from… and not if we watched the season finale.

Bottom line, this family has issues… but the actors do not.  Highmore and Farmiga are great as Norma and Norman Bates.  I don’t know what I expected from A&E’s new series, but I will say the writers and creators have far exceeded whatever expectations I might have had.

What do you think?  Do you like these “dark” TV series?  Which is your favorite and why?  I’d love to hear from you!

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