The Following is probably the best publicized new television program to air as a mid-season replacement this winter. Simply put, it is the story of a serial killer with quite a... following who has escaped from custody and the author who knows the most about him and who must organize a crew in order to take him down.
One of the first things you have to look for in a new network television program is how well the actors act. In some shows, old hand actors with an amazing tenure in the business fall flat, delivering only what they need to deliver in order to get a paycheck. And while new talent sometimes seems like it can't compare, it is often that actor that you have never heard of who makes waves, like Evangeline Lilly on LOST, for example. The point is that you can rarely tell by looking at the actors on IMDB or even by watching the trailer for the show if the cast is going to be strong. The first thing I noticed about The Following is that Kevin Bacon, Maggie Grace and Billy Brown (remember him from Dexter?) are all great actors with varying degrees of success. I think the best moment of the Pilot took place when Grace's character Sarah Fuller testified against the killer in a flashback and described a moment where she couldn't remove a knife from her so she pushed it deeper inside in hopes that she would bleed out sooner. It was heavy. It was deep. It was creepier than I'm used to with prime time network television. It was just plain good.
Unfortunately, that's where the good ends. Everything about the writing, directing and production feels like everything else on successful network TV - it is cheap and boring, but it is familiar and doesn't require much from its audience. It is perfect for the every-fattening Americans who sit on the couch and talk about how much they like franchise television shows like Law & Order, CSI, and NCIS. Shaun Ashemore's acting is weak, his character vacillating back and forth from cocky cop running the show to fanboy. And here's the really sad part: there is nothing the least bit menacing about the murderer. It doesn't matter if James Purefoy is a fantastic actor, because the murderer Joe Carroll was written to be so bland that nobody could make him interesting.
I had invested first in the Cinemax show Banshee, second in the FOX show The Following and then finally in the FX show The Americans. Banshee and The Following were both weak enough that I found it difficult to watch the entire pilot - forty minutes of commercial-free programming can be a very long time for a busy young individual, after all. Thank goodness that FX delivered with The Americans. Skip the others.