Move over superheroes – serial killers are the new black (or should that be red?). Sky Atlantic’s latest acquisition, The Following, is one in a growing number of worrying shows about the hunt for a charismatic, sexy psychopath. Where this one distinguishes itself from the pack though is in its very premise – with an FBI Agent not up against just one murderer, but a whole army of them. If that all sounds a bit ridiculous, it’s because it is.
The show stars Kevin Bacon as disgraced agent Ryan Hardy who is called back in to help the FBI when a deranged serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who he originally caught, escapes from prison. Over the course of the first episode it’s also revealed that Carroll has been secretly logging onto the internet and has somehow managed to create for himself an army of followers, prepared to kidnap and murder for him – presumably there’s a chatroom for that sort of thing?
It all comes from the mind of Kevin Williamson, the man who brought us the Scream movies and whereas they were an excellent post-modern take on the slasher genre, The Following doesn’t really have anything to say about our growing obsession with serial killers. The problem is that the programme takes itself far too seriously – we are ominously informed that there are currently a suspected three hundred serial killers in the United States but if the first episode is anything to go by, they must all be working for Carroll; in the pilot alone we meet four of his psychotic acolytes. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if half the cast had been revealed to be murderers by the end of the season.
The show has been heavily criticised for its gratuitous depiction of violence and in its attempt to justify the grisly murders, Carroll is said to be using killing as an art form due to his unhealthy obsession with the Granddad of Goth, Edgar Allen Poe. Presumably this literary connection is meant to make Carroll seem deep and darkly attractive (he reads books!) but boil it down and he’s really just a sad fanboy who thinks it counts as art if he murders someone and scrawls “Nevermore” above them in their own blood. For a show so obsessed with serial killers, it doesn’t really attempt to look at the psychology behind all the violence and given Carroll’s seemingly unending supply of followers, it’s probably for the better – one thought about the inner workings of an actual serial killer would only highlight the sheer idiocy of the show’s premise.
Had the whole thing been done tongue-in-cheek as a potential commentary of violence on TV then it may have been watchable, but the mixture of gruesome murders and the deadly serious, gravelly voiced way in which everything is handled makes it just plain annoying. It’s a sad state of affairs then that a second series has already been picked up. Will I be watching? Quoth the reviewer, “Nevermore”.