Are you in?
That's the question any pilot episode of any television show asks. Some shows may ask gently.
"The Following" is not one of those shows.
Before the pilot episode of the new FOX suspense show reaches the midway point, it asks this question--and does not ask gently. Call it the result of a single scene that's sure to produce one of two visceral reactions, whether it be "I'm disgusted and never watching this show again" or "HOLY SHIT!"
The Following isn't the most original show you'll see. It's not really original at all, actually. The subject matter, with an infamous serial killer escaping from captivity and returning to his slashy-slashy ways, is a mishmash of the same type of stuff we've seen for the past 20 years in James Patterson books, the various mediums showcasing everyone's favorite face-eatin' cannibal Hannibal Lector, and even the Scream movies that were the brainchild of show-boss Kevin Williamson.
What makes this show work then? Two things. First, the performances. James Purefoy brings it as the serial killer at large, named Joe Carroll. We already know this is one of the more sophisticated serial killers because he is not referred to by his middle name. He's a literature professor who's a little too attached to the work of Edgar Allen Poe and shows his devotion to America's most famous drunk found dead in the gutter by ripping the eyes out of young buxom gals.
Did I mention this show is chockfull of graphic violence? No? Cause it is.
But this show is driven by Kevin Bacon. The basis of his character is something we've all seen before -- tormented washout FBI agent who carries physical and mental scars from his past run-in with the bad guy. As the only man to successfully catch Carroll the first time around, he's brought back in to help hunt the fugitive.
Boiler-plate stuff, am I right?
Some of the character points behind Bacon's Ryan Hardy look like something that rolled fresh out of the Archetype Factory, right down to the water bottles filled with vodka that Bacon carries around while "consulting" for the feds. But it's the way Bacon plays this character that makes the hero, and ultimately, the show work. There's some solid contributors on the supporting cast as well. One face you might recognize is that of Natalie Zea, best known as Raylan Givens' squeeze on Justified. This time around, she's playing Carroll's (estranged? ex? they never say...) wife.
Again, they're not re-inventing the wheel with this show. Not only is the story something we've all seen before, most of the scares in the pilot episode were the type of "BOO! Gotcha!" pop-outta-nowhere scares that were Williamson's bread and butter in the Scream flicks. Again, it's all in the delivery. Events in the pilot episode set up a narrative that leaves the writers plenty of room to play around and set up carnage and mayhem -- and do so in a way that stands out from every episode of Criminal Minds that was ever made.
Definitely check out this show when the new fall season begins.