Following the FOLLOWING and other Spring TV Quick Hits

I needed a break.  The last time I sat down to write my weekly reflection of The Following was over three weeks ago and I hoped that taking some time off would allow me to come back to the show (DVR storage was a friend) with a fresh perspective and maybe even a new found appreciation.  This morning I binge watched the last three episodes – “Welcome Home”, “Love Hurts”, and “Guilt” – to see if the wild world of Joe Carroll’s cult had evolved into something worth salvaging.  I discovered that the tension and its relatively well-executed escalation is still there, the curse of Ryan Hardy (don’t get too close or you will be in danger!) is going strong, and characters still make decisions that are based on actions that have little connection to any real world application of logic.  This flawed, problem-ridden serialized saga remains a viewing conundrum of sorts.  It pulls you in enough with some snappy narratives and effective pacing while keeping you a spear gun’s distance away with a premise that all seems so silly.  As pages are turned in each new cult member’s chapter (Marin Ireland’s Amanda Porter was particularly annoying in “Love Hurts”), I just want to get to the end of the book already!

With five episodes left before season 1 bows its ugly head for a summer hibernation, my commitment hangs on a loose thread, or as I like to call it, every storyline introduced on this show.  I have spent too much time with the Carroll/Matthews/Hardy clan to leave now, but if circumstances and the influx of some great television returns reduce my viewing time bandwidth, tears will I not shed.

For now, The Following is on a belabored final lap with some important (a relative term) narrative resets to be aware of…

  • Claire Matthews endured one too many abduction attempts and finally allowed her would be captors (this week it is Roderick himself accompanied by some weapons expert who conveniently belonged to a constitutionalist militia as a youth) to take her to Joe and to her (completely bored at this point) son, Joey.  For the first time next week, the Carroll/Matthews family will all be under one roof.
  • We finally (I was hoping we could forget about them completely) revisited Jacob and a very wounded Paul who took refuge at a rustic retreat owned by Jacob’s folks.  Jacob’s mom finds Emma’s abandoned lovers playing doctor (or at least desperately needing one) and suggests a hospital before daddy comes home and calls the police (Jacob’s mom is played by Jayne Atkinson on a break from diplomatic duties on House of Cards).  Jacob (“I have never killed anyone, mom!”) decides that suffocating Paul is the way to start when Roderick’s command center receives his secret email SOS signal and mobilizes the rescue party for his return to Carrolland headquarters.  Jacob arrives there with some very angry feelings toward Emma (she did kind of did leave him for slaughter).  Our momentary celebration that Paul is finally gone is curtailed by Jacob’s lifelike Paul hallucinations (Adan Canto, don’t you have some other acting work to ruin scenes in?) that are just a nuisance to all (especially this humble viewer).
  • Ryan’s investigative unit is in all kinds of shambles, Mike Weston was pretty badly beat up and is probably filming the new X-Men so is off the grid (but will make a full recovery), Annie Parisse feels badly about failing her original task force and now must babysit Ryan, and new Chief Nick Donovan seems as incompetent (at least Hardy thinks so) as his forbearers.
  • As for Ryan, he outs his best friend from witness protection in order to conceal Claire (she left anyway) resulting in some bullet wounds to the chest for his buddy, reciprocates Claire’s “I love you” (she left anyway), and is now set up for a presumed final showdown with his arch nemesis and a rescue attempt of his damsel who in many ways is choosing distress.

The silver lining in all of this: The Following is very low on my television watching totem pole.  Here are some quick thoughts on what really matters and what I recommend you check out…

  • The 28th season of The Real World (Portland!) starts tonight and in recent weeks, Real World love has been spread all over the media world.  Last weekend, MTV aired retro MTV marathons of three seasons of the reality tv pioneer (the first season in New York, Las Vegas, and the most significant and best season of all-time, San Francisco).  Twitter activity was unheralded and Real World talk (and subsequently momentum heading into tonight) is all the rage.  Vulture even disseminated a ranking of all the seasons that is wonderful for its existence, but is immediately unreliable for placing London in seventh place.
  • If you haven’t been watching The Americans on FX, you haven’t been watching the best drama (at least until Game of Thrones and then Mad Men return in the coming weeks) currently airing on television.  This delicious plate of Cold War period espionage set against KGB family drama keeps getting better each week.  Watching Keri Russell dive into her 1980s mom jeans as a Russian spy is an embarrassment of TV viewing riches.  She is a revelation.
  • I also strongly recommend Jane Campion’s miniseries (currently on iTunes or weekly on the Sundance Channel) Top of the Lake starring a wonderfully cast Elisabeth Moss showing an incredible range and such a clear distinction from her near iconic portrayal of Peggy Olson on Mad Men.  I am only two episodes in (there are going to be five), but this mystery set in a beautifully shot world of remote New Zealand gets under your skin with its potency of subject, character, and atmospheric delivery.  It is everything The Killing could have been if it had had a charismatic lead character, a competent writing staff, and sound leadership (I am looking at you Veena Sud).
  • Over the course of three days (it was closer to two) last week, I finally found the time to binge on the thirteen episodes of season 1 of House of Cards on Netflix.  The experience was wholly unique because for the first time I was binge watching something that was not originally released or intended for week by week consumption.  I am not sure what to think and am especially unsure of how I will ultimately remember the experience, but I can say that I struggled deciding when to take a break (episodes lead so expertly and effortlessly into the next).  David Fincher directed episodes one and two, but his influence on style and substance was acutely felt throughout.  It is a taut political thriller that brilliantly leads the viewer through a web of power and destruction at such an incredible and engrossing pace.  The entire ensemble of actors is outstanding, particularly Corey Stoll as an ambitious congressmen with some major demons and Robin Wright as Kevin Spacey’s elegant and commanding wife and partner in political aspiration.
  • Finally, Season 3 of Game of Thrones begins on March 31 and Season 6 of Mad Men begins on April 7 and let’s just say the anticipation and the excitement is real.  Sunday nights will be booked for the foreseeable future.

Following The Following may be a chore of sorts, but thankfully it barely dilutes the current and upcoming spring TV waters.  Dive in and trust me that it will be warmer than you think.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW: Oz the Great and Powerful

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


I will preface this column by sharing that my relationship with the incredible and beautiful land of Oz and its many offshoots and stories goes way back.  Before I reached the age of 5, my mom had read me the 14 Oz books (I reread them myself at age 10) and they have since represented one of my most special and formative fantasy worlds I have ever experienced.  Both the 1939 motion picture classic and the hauntingly engrossing book-based sequel from Disney, Return to Oz, have an important place on my DVD shelf.  My dream directorial or producing project remains an HBO backed fantasy television series a la Game of Thrones that chronicles the brilliant ingenuity and lush storytelling of L. Frank Baum’s more than a dozen original books.  When I stepped into the snowed-in cinema last Friday afternoon on opening day of Oz the Great and Powerful, I was still so excited to be transported back to a world that I remember so fondly, despite the early reviews that had not treaded so favorably on this latest road of yellow brick incarnation.  Notwithstanding, I desperately wanted Oz to be both “great” and “powerful.”  Unfortunately, as you will read below, this was not the case.

1) Oz the Great and Powerful is neither a great nor powerful movie and is largely a waste of your viewing energy and time.  Despite depicting a fantastical world of flying talking monkeys (in this case they were mostly baboons), the wickedest of witches, and sights never before seen in the monotonous grey boredom of the state of Kansas, the land of Oz’s great power has always been in heart, soul, and emotional authenticity.  Yes, there is certainly a leap of logic when a lion or a scarecrow are able to speak to you, but once you spend a little time digging deeper into what is behind the mane or layer of straw (respectively), these characters have the same wants, desires, and feelings as you or I.  Oz the Great and Powerful is disappointingly emotionally inauthentic and largely without any real feeling.  Most core characters meander through this once (and too obviously and overall too fake) green screen world making decisions that have little to do with understandable motivations.  The central protagonist and antagonist conflict between James Franco’s Oz (more on him in a bit) and Mila Kunis‘ wicked witch-to-be resounds in a fantasy world of its own, mired in unbelievable action and reactions that leave the viewer caring less and less.  The stakes are low, the consequences don’t really seem to matter, and the land of Oz really feels like a dream that you immediately forget when you wake up.

2) After struggling to watch James Franco on screen for almost the entirety of the belabored more than two hours of movie run-time, I have come to a decision that I should have made a long time ago: I will no longer be attending James Franco movies.  A day after the movie release, did a brilliant piece titled “What the critics said about James Franco as Oz” that expertly catalogues the many different ways critics said James Franco was a problem.  There are some great lines to pull-out (“Franco is, frankly, too callow, too feckless, too much the dude for this role” and “A flat, awkward central performance by James Franco), but no one characterizes his performance better perhaps than Keith Ullich from Time Out New York: “Franco is a distinctly uninspiring Oz, which works for the early scenes, but is near disastrous when he assumes his predestined roles of liberator, savior and big giant head. The actor’s two default modes—stoned indifference and performance-art aloofness—do not an invigorating leader make.”  That is just it.  James Franco spends the entirety of the movie aloof and distant, with a callow grin seemingly habitually painted on his face that gives out an “I don’t really care” aura.  Like his infamous Oscar co-hosting “performance,” Franco’s lack of interest is off-putting.  It is through this apathetic and hubris filled lens that we follow his Wizard of Oz character through what should be the most magnificent of worlds.  To Franco, it all seems kind of average and mundane and it subsequently leaves the audience with little reason to care.

3) Going in to the movie, I knew that my preconceptions about James Franco were going to be obstacles to overcome (and boy were my fears validated), but in considering the three women cast as the witches of Oz, I was genuinely excited.  Michelle Williams is a wonderful actress who never shies away from taking emotional risks (see Blue Valentine).  Mila Kunis has always been delightful to me and this became all the more true after watching this interview with Chris Stark from the BBC.  Rachel Weisz could very well be my answer to the question, “who is your favorite movie actress?”, and I usually cherish opportunities to watch her do her thing on screen, let alone in a world as personally beloved to me as Oz.  Unfortunately, all three witch performances were complete disappointments.  Michelle Williams plays Glinda as if she is still in role on the set of My Week with Marilyn and consequently comes across as a flighty ingenue without substance or strength.  Mila Kunis plays Theodora (SPOILER ALERT: the naive witch, who, over the course of the movie, improbably and irrationally becomes the iconic Wicked Witch of the West, green makeup and all) as a lifeless Audrey Hepburn fashion wannabe.  Her physical transformation is one thing, but Kunis’ attempt at a witch voice is the worst Christian Bale as Batman impersonation that you will ever hear.  Poor Rachel Weisz tries so hard to chew up the vast expansive space that the green screen behind her has so obviously fabricated, but even Rachel cannot hide some of her struggles with dialogue and motivation that mire her evil Evanora character.  I spent a little too much time wishing for Dorothy’s house to arrive and crush her ruby slipper adorned body.

4) It says something when the most authentic and relatable characters in the movie, Finley, the talking monkey voiced by Zach Braff, and China Girl, voiced by Joey King (who also played the young Marion Cotillard from the prison in The Dark Knight Rises), are both entirely CGI.  I actually cared about both of them and wished that they were not so compelled to follow the unlikeable Oz (as in Wizard of) along his uninspiring journey.

5) Oz the Great and Powerful is a movie without a soul that inspires little interest or intrigue, creates a fantasy world without depth or purpose, and leaves the viewer with every intention to just want to go no place but home.  Part of the land of Oz’s magic and mystique has always been its promise of adventure and discovery juxtaposed with the grey and bleak mundanity of everyday life, but in this iteration, the mundane is Oz, the character so poorly portrayed by James Franco and the green screen created land that he inhabits.


This week’s aptly titled episode of The Following is oftentimes exactly what I wish this serialized television convention of viewer discretion would let me do.  When I committed to writing weekly “recaps” (it may be a leap at this point to even call them that) back in January, I was optimistic that this journey would deliver me engrossing entertainment and a quality drama series on network television.  Seven weeks in, The Following is a bit of a chore, a necessary evil that I have committed to (at least for season 1, more on that in a bit), and a mixed bag of potential success and writing room narrative drivel.  At its best, The Following is a 2013 lesser-version of an average episode of 24 that through sharp pacing, main character grumbling angst, some computer literate savvy assistance (Mike Weston fills in as a less ironic and more personable Chloe), and “where is this all leading” intrigue provides a fairly watchable program.  At its worst, The Following is a challenging experience, soaked in horrific dialogue, the silliest of character relationships, unmotivated and off-putting gratuitous displays of violence, and a premise that when put under the plausibility diagnostic test fails every time.

Most weeks in which pages of the script had the setting as “the farmhouse” and dialogue from characters like “Jacob” or “Paul” or “Emma” were of this latter, worst case iteration of The Following.  This week’s “Let Me Go” episode was thankfully devoid of Jacob and Paul (at least Joey was concerned about their well-being, Emma/Denise was unfortunately still around for the festivities) and was at least moving the narrative forward in some game changing kind of ways, albeit mostly through the implausible lens that has been the filter we have come to expect and dread.  Yesterday, Fox announced that The Following had been renewed for a second season (New Girl, Raising Hope, and the “you are not doing anything better on Tuesday night at 9:30 so please join in on the fun” The Mindy Project also were picked up) and after careful consideration, I see this as potentially good news.  My hope is that now the writing team led by Kevin Williamson will be able to consider the show more as a Joe Carroll long con and less a series of irritating new follower outbreaks.  It has the airtime to go somewhere, so let’s see where it can take us.

In brief summary of the key plot developments of “Let Me Go” with the farmhouse in our collective (sigh of relief) rear view mirrors, Emma/Denise brings Joey to an auto mechanic, pseudo-follower named Bo who seems to be angry about a lot of things.  On a trip to the little boy’s room, Joey discovers Dana, a young woman locked up in a cage.  Meanwhile in FBI land, through some Olivia Warren attorney dialogue to the warden about torts and 8th Amendment rights (clearly, real lawyers were not consulted on authenticity), Joe Carroll is granted a transfer to a prison in Georgia because he was mistreated by Ryan Hardy and the FBI.  (Quick tangent that I wish The Following went on: wouldn’t it have been great if the prison transfer was curtailed when Joe Carroll’s U.S. Marshall bus ended up somewhere outside of Woodbury in the fictional world of The Walking Dead? Joe Carroll, please meet the Governor!  Or better yet, I would love to see Denise/Emma have a showdown with a field of walkers!  Kevin Williamson, make this happen).  Through some careful detective tactics known as “common sense,” Hardy and sidekick Mike Weston (becoming a more integral and appreciated member of the good guy team) figure out that the warden has been coerced into the Carroll transfer because it turns out that the caged woman in Bo’s shop is actually his daughter (ooh, I didn’t see that one coming).  Naturally, the prison transfer is a rouse, Joe Carroll escapes in the trunk of Olivia Warren’s car, he then strangles her and puts on a suit (in the opposite order), and arrives at a building showcasing a sterile cafeteria environment for professionals.  Ryan Hardy is just one step behind and after a dogged, guns ablaze in a public building pursuit, has a little confrontation with free man Joe Carroll on the stairwell leading up to the roof.  This leads to this speech from Joe: “We have only just concluded the first part of our novel, yes, Ryan.  For nine, long years I have sat in my prison cell outlining this entire story in my mind.  I meticulously planned all of it, with a little help from my friends.  That’s a Beatles reference, by the way…There is so much more to come, Ryan.  I’ll be in touch.”  Carroll leaves Ryan with his lackey, Ryan shoots the lackey in the leg, and hustles to the roof, but it is too late: Carroll is airborne in his getaway helicopter (Hardy decides to shoot bullets at it anyway).  In the episode’s denouement, the FBI team finds Dana alive but Joey’s abduction party has escaped.  As she goes into protective (not even Hardy will no where) custody, Claire Matthews is particularly displeased with the FBI performance in finding her son.  Ryan may have to start bringing out more of his inner Jack Bauer (i.e. stretching the rules even more).  In the final scene that seems to set in motion the second part of the Joe Carroll novel, the Carroll rescue party (welcome to the team, knife-wielding Louise) arrives at a late night gathering at some secluded fraternity-like house where he is met by Denise/Emma, Charlie, a band of new follower extras, and Joey, who was hoping to see Mom, but Dad will have to suffice.

In the true spirit of optimism, now that The Following has a second season mandate, I am hopeful that it will be able to carve out a more engaging narrative strand.  Despite my general difficulties with the premise (especially that Joe Carroll could be considered this awe-inspiring figure), I am game for the developments in “Let Me Go” and could not be happier that we are out of the farmhouse.  At the very least, The Following is a place where (“really?!!,” as in ” Really with Seth Myers”) Beatles references occur in the middle of important speeches, so there’s always that.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.