Guest post by skippy the bush kangaroo (@skippybkroo)
nobody likes good tv as much as we do, and nobody is as thrilled with the evolution of long-form story-telling on television as we are. add that to the fact that mrs. skippy loves kevin bacon, and we were incredibly excited to see the new fox tv series starring mr. bacon, known as “the following.”
“the following” which airs on mondays nights on fox-tv, tells the tale of an imprisoned serial killer played by james purefoy, who manages to communicate with his cultish acolytes on the outside to manipulate them into gruesome, bloody and shocking murders at his behest, like some sort of cross between charles manson and hannibal lecter. bacon plays the fbi agent who originally caught purefoy’s character, and is now back on the case to try to figure out…wait for it…”the following.”
now, we have no problem with explicit violence in service of a good scary or interesting story. we think breaking bad is one of the greatest piece of popular entertainment of all time, and we are big fans of dexter, justified, and the walking dead as well. but the difference between those afore-mentioned shows, the following, is simply this: “the following” sucks.
and it sucks in a big, big way. firstly, all the cops are really, really stupid. secondly, all the bad guys are really, really smart, and really, really evil. and that’s about it. what other, little characterization there is seems to be lifted wholesale from a thousand previous police procedurals (bacon’s character is world-weary! and alcoholic! purefoy’s character is charismatic! and handsome! the black guy gets killed! almost right away!).
but wait! there’s explicit violence, just like on those cable shows! stabbings! immolations! eye-gouging! and all in the name of edgar allen poe, who is supposedly the inspiration for all these killings, in the worst mis-reading of the works of american literary giant since disney animated the legend of sleepy hollow.
the problem with all this gore-nography, as we call it, is that there’s nothing else very interesting in the show to hang it on. breaking bad isn’t about drug dealers killing each other; it’s an intricate study of the moral breakdown of a man already being beaten by the system. dexter isn’t about slicing people up, it’s a complicated analysis of the definitions of good and evil within each of us, asking if the indulgence of one can serve the other. and walking dead has zombies, so…
we expected so much more from kevin williamson, the creator and executive producer of the following. williamson wrote the scream films, which happily played with the tropes of horror movies even as they worked as a horror movies themselves. but in the following, williamson doesn’t do anything with horror/serial killer tropes, other than steal them from thomas harris and criminal minds. even ryan murphy at least has fun juggling horror tropes around in american horror story. williamson seems to be writing this crap in his sleep, or else farming it out to some junior high creative writing class somewhere.
last week’s episode was a prime example: the fbi followed (no pun intended) the clues to a specific individual’s house. he wasn’t home, but his wife was. the fbi interrogated her and decided she didn’t know anything about the murderous cult her husband was involved with. now, at this point, we literally shouted at the tv “yeah, sure she doesn’t! like paterno didn’t know about sundusky!” but the fbi let her go back to her house, and sent one agent (the afore-mentioned one black guy in the cast) to guard her. even worse, he felt really safe turning his back on her in the kitchen where they keep all those knives and cutting implements. well, if you couldn’t see his extremely bloody death coming a mile away, then we’ve got an original story about killing a man and hiding his still-beating heart under the floorboards to sell you.
there is something to be said for the subplot of two straight (bad) guys who pretended to be gay to get close to the ex-wife of purefoy’s character in order to kidnap her son, only to later realize that maybe they liked being gay, but there’s an evil girl involved who doesn’t like them being gay, so she stabs one guy, who goes out and kidnaps an innocent lady and beats her up and keeps her in the basement. well, ok, there’s really nothing to be said for that subplot, now that we write it out and look at it.
we are sorrier than you know to say this show is a turkey. we like to think that television has entered a second golden, or at least a silver, age of story-telling, with shows that demand actual attention paid by its audience, and multiple views of every episode to suss out the nuance and layers of human interaction. lost, the sopranos, fringe, as well as the shows mentioned above, are great examples of complex, substantive examinations of human folly.
“the following” is just a pale imitation, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. if you ask us if we are going to keep watching it, we’d quote poe’s raven.