Tag Archives: James Purefoy

Following the Following: Chapter Two

“This is my chapter and I can write it any way I want to!” – dim-witted ex-prison guard, Jordy

If you were in an inauguration induced euphoria coma last Monday night or were breaking down Beyoncé’s previous live performances frame by frame as an amateur lip synch detective, you may have missed the pilot of The Following, Fox’s serialized horror/suspense thriller answer to the cable networks creative drama takeover.  Set up as a vehicle for a Kevin Bacon v. James Purefoy good guy/bad guy chess match filled with “jump out of your seat” thrills, gratuitous violent acts, suspense and angst filled show oversight by Kevin Williamson, and a growing motley crew of obsessive cult followers of Purefoy’s (less than as far as I can tell) charismatic English professor turned serial killer Joe Carroll, The Following had some Dawson and Joey sized growing pains.  Besides the fact that I am not sure if I am even allowed to call it a “cult” yet (I should check with Annie Parisse’s new addition squad leader who is from the alternative religions bureau unit – I kid you not – who seems to have the last word on which words are acceptable to use when discussing Carroll’s murderous groupies), pilots must be given the benefit of the doubt.  Our gauge of a show’s future success is better considered when we have a few episodes (or in a bit of condescending tone to the viewer, “chapters” as they are deemed here) under our belt, so let’s see what this week’s installment had in store.

The Following: Chapter Two began where the pilot left off (a trend that seemed to continue this week), showcasing the next victim (or this case, victims) of the Joe Carroll Killing fraternity (or in this case, sorority).  Dim-witted (we were reminded of this a few too many times by a few too many characters – there must be something here) prison guard turned animal cruelty captain Jordy, pays a visit to a neighborhood collegiate sorority and decides to kill a few of the sisters (many of them while they are sleeping).  Having seen the “sorority sister” archetype victimized in several too many a horror movie before, this subplot all seemed a bit usual and expected (and thereby unnecessary).  Since we are all made to question Jordy’s comprehension of everything, was this just an arbitrary decision by a man incapable of decision making?

Annie Parisse and Kevin Bacon

Back at investigation headquarters, personnel changes are the talk of the squad room.  Bacon’s Ryan Hardy wonders why Mason (initial good riddance, but after an hour with her miscast replacement, I may change my tune) is off of the case in a move that was triggered by anyone who watched Jeananne Goossen’s troubling performance in the pilot.  Annie Parisse plays Debra Parker, aforementioned alternative religion unit member and English language critical analyst, who is a strong frontrunner for the 2013 television award for “role that least matches the actor playing it.”  We immediately learn that she means serious business and is going to be tough on all aspects of Ryan Hardy (until she’s not).  The current investigative focus centers on the abduction of Joey Matthews (the young son of Joe Carroll and his ex-wife Claire Matthews) and the true identity of his three abductors, the nanny, Denise, and the two gay men that had been imbedded neighbors of Sarah Fuller, Maggie Grace’s pilot episode featured Joe Carroll murder victim.

It is not all book readings and Edgar Allen Poe impersonator parties at the house where Joey is being kept.  In order to spice up cult abduction life, it turns out that the gay man Will is not actually, but is madly in love (with flashbacks and sex scenes to prove how “special” he thinks she is) with Denise.  Billy, on the other hand, may actually have fallen for Will (three years living as a couple may do that) and is struggling as the third wheel in this new troubled triangle.  At least Joey has some replica toys to check out.

Meanwhile, Hardy and company are hard at work tracking Denise’s connections to Joe Carroll and discover that her real name is Emma (in a flashback we learn that after attending a Carroll book reading in 2003, she begins visiting him in prison and practicing his teachings) and has been a Carroll plant at the Matthew’s home as a nanny all this time (even though Claire did a background check!).  Denise/Emma/Will’s lover had an old address and the Hardy Boys Troupe go to investigate.  After an illegal break-in (“You can’t, but I can because I am not an official federal agent”), a house tour reveals ground zero of the Joe Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe obsessed worshippers.  Lines of text graffiti the walls, portraits and Poe artwork are everywhere, and there are some creepy Poe masks that would absolutely kill at a late nineteenth century Halloween party.  It turns out that one of the masks is a person trying to remain hidden amidst Hardy’s search, and, after the one goose pump (you got me KWill) increasing moment of Chapter Two, the masked Poe jumps up and knocks out Hardy before escaping (we meet him or one of his masked brethren in the final scene).  Hardy recovers from the blow to discover the body of Denise/Emma/Will’s lover’s mom in the wall who, in her two flashback scenes, had an “I am about to be murdered by my daughter” effect written all over her before she was actually murdered by her daughter (because she had finally had enough?).  Yes, she may be a good nanny, but now that Denise is revealed to be a killer, Joey’s artificial bedroom suddenly does not feel so safe.

"Denise"

After an unsuccessful attempt to yell the location of her son out of him (not before he easily forced her to reveal that she was “quite satisfied” during her two month affair – “after the divorce!” – with Ryan Hardy), Claire returns home to a clinic in how law enforcement can least protect the ex-wife of a serial killer.  She is brushing her teeth upstairs when the one upstairs officer (there appeared to be thirty doughnut eating and coffee drinking colleagues downstairs) is easily removed by the not-too-bright Jordy (remember me!) who then holds Claire at gunpoint.  Hardy leads a federal agent raid of the upstairs and after averting a Jordy bullet firing, enters the bedroom upon Jordy’s (and based on Carroll’s instructions) request.  Hardy is to kill Jordy (although he is not sure he is ready to die yet) or Jordy will kill Claire.  Hardy tries to flip the script by reasoning with the deranged police impersonator, Jordy freaks out because he was promised full authorship of this chapter by Carroll, and Hardy has enough and shoots him in the arm (to the disdain of Carroll who in their next prison room tea time seems particularly ornery when he learns that Jordy the opposite of fast is still alive).  Hardy spends the night by Claire’s side (to her credit, is there anyone else she can trust – “If you are not a federal agent, get out of the house!”) and all is well – for now.

The episode ends with two final intentionally important notes: Annie Parisse delivers Carroll a collection of Poe’s work (he had requested some reading material!) to the intrigue of the increasing second week viewers (A clue!) and a masked Poe (reminiscent of the Joker gang during the amazing first ten minutes of The Dark Knight) pores kerosene on some guy (who we have never seen before) in broad daylight and burns him alive (because apparently we hadn’t reached our violence for the sake of violence quota yet this episode, sorry, chapter).

Two weeks in and The Following is doing some things very well.  Williamson’s command of tension and pacing is at a high level.  The show moves and has so far had a pleasant balance of delayering clues from the past with forward moving action.  I am on the edge of my seat (although too often wanting to fall off) and Bacon is (not surprisingly) a competent and somewhat enjoyable guide of this story and genre.  I am appreciative of production for removing the pilot’s least inspired character (see you later, Mason) and for its willingness to “go there” in killing off Sarah Fuller (and the “talents” of Maggie Grace).  This malleability will be essential in The Following’s ability to move forward successfully.  Also, the Poe masks are admittedly kind of creepy (even if the man on fire is to this point another meaningless killing).

James Purefoy

Unfortunately, this whole cult (Am I even allowed to call it that yet, Annie Parisse?) following thing is one of the toughest television buy-ins since The Magic Hour.  I don’t buy that James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll is either charismatic enough or his followers are messed up enough (eh, with Jordy, this may not be true) to make this all logically work.  Purefoy, as far as I can tell, seems to be a moderately charming man because he is British?  I think back to Javier Bardem’s first scene in Skyfall (well played, Sam Mendes) and just how mesmerizing (albeit creepy) Silva was.  I could understand how others could follow this dude and do what he said (if anything out of fear).  Purefoy has little of this effect and seems to be just a waste of everyone’s time (the surprisingly very convincing Natalie Zea as Claire Matthews seems to be the only one who kind of gets it).  The whole “two gay men and a nanny” subplot was excruciating to watch (just keep playing with the toys, Joey!) and it seems like each reveal of more of “the why” makes any previous interest I had in “the what” rendered moot.  Again, we are only two episodes chapters in and I am digging spending some time with Kevin Bacon on the television, but as U2’s first track on Boy did not say, “Walk away, walk away, walk away, walk away – I will not follow” for long.

What do you all think?  Am I allowed to call it a “cult” yet?  Will Joey get bored of checking out the toys?  Will Hardy ever get to sleep (c’mon people!)?

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His other pop culture writing can be found on Bishop and Company (bishopandcomp.com).

Following the Following: The Pilot

Several times a year, major television networks make deliberate, highly researched, yet hopeful decisions about what new shows to heavily promote.  Advertising money and air time is divvied out across days, weeks, and often months before a new show debuts.  The thinking is that if (a) enough people watch a series premiere and (b) the quality and interest level of this pilot and subsequent early episodes are compelling enough to want to delve deeper, a television network can build a hit that is commercially lucrative over time.  For the four major television networks as they are currently constituted (CBS, ABC, Fox, and “welcome back to the party” NBC) this task is increasingly difficult as cable’s critical revolutionary successes of this millennium (the Sopranos to Break Bad lineage so expertly explored in Alan Sepinwall’s book) and the DVR/internetization of television viewing have changed the entire television landscape to a marketplace that is more niche-based, artistically edgier, and less reliant on a mass-audience twenty-two episode season model.  In this new world of TV in which a “massive hit” on a network like AMC can mean the same number of weekly viewers as one of the four major networks least watched shows, the major networks have struggled to find the fusion of critical and commercial success (especially in the scripted drama department) as they once could.  Based on the aforementioned frequent pre-premiere ad campaign extravaganzas, it is not for a lack of trying.

For every fall of 2004 when the ABC marketing department focused on two shows called Lost and Desperate Housewives (the former was an outright and transcendent cultural phenomenon and the latter a long-running hit show that established the tone of the entire network), there have been enumerable The Events, The Rivers, Terra Novas, and Flash Forwards that despite in your face and relentless advertising failed to replicate the magic of predecessor shows.  The most successful modern cable shows (Mad Men, The Walking Dead) unencumbered by a typical major network season length and a higher bar set for ratings success, could build an audience over time, allowing for greater artistic freedom and most often a better product.  This midseason, Fox has banked what must be a huge pie of the “NAI” (not American Idol) ad money on The Following, the latest attempt to make a cable-like drama (e.g. worth watching and of artistic merit) on a major network.  If you turned on Fox television (my NFL fandom, X Factor obligations, and Mindy Project loyalty were my gateways) any time over the last several months, you could not miss the Fox ad men pursuit to inform the masses that Kevin Bacon (the central conduit of cinema connection himself!) was headlining a new serial killer psychological opus.  All the buzz as articulated through unnerving visual repetition and pre premiere hype focused on Kevin Bacon as the star of a network series (almost as if either no bigger movie star had ever come to television or as a Fox less than subliminal allusion to the network arrival of another movie pseudo star, Kiefer Sutherland, some twelve years ago) and how violent, edgy, and cable-like The Following would be for simply a “network show.” (That scene of a woman with text written all over her body was here to prove it!)

I am admittedly a sucker for new major network television program buzz and have gone down the rabbit hole of many a show searching for my next Lost (a serialized experience that becomes an emotional touchstone of my viewing life).  Seemingly each time, any pilot promise unravels faster than a Lindsey Lohan work experience (last season’s failed Alcatraz and The River were the latest culprits) and I am left with another wasted investment.  As Netflix streaming (Mad Men? Check.  Break Bad? Check.) and more thoughtful dvd purchases (hello The Wire at a bargain price for $89.99 three years ago!) have given me front row tickets to the cable TV revolution, my overall television taste has become more refined and discerning and less lenient of major network drivel.  Yet despite it all, I remain a romantic for the next great major network drama and The Following is (as I have been informed many a time by Fox) the most likely candidate in 2013.  Consequently, I will be a weekly follower of The Following in 2013 in hopes that this one show with some potentially sustaining credentials (Kevin Williamson has been a somewhat successful TV frontrunner before) may finally break from the trend of mostly floundering forerunners.

This week’s pilot episode of The Following (delivering a “Fox is happy” 10.4 million pre-DVR viewers) must be considered with a fair amount of benefit of the doubt.  Pilots can be flashy and exciting, but the show itself can be less sustainable over time (Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip immediately comes to mind) or pilots can be hard to get into (both Mad Men and Breaking Bad had tonal qualities that took some getting used to before becoming the masterpieces that they are now) that eventually become incredible series.  However, with this in mind, The Following’s first episode was a bit of a disappointment.  In its quest to establish a clear understanding of the circumstances and stakes of the series, it became bogged down in unrealistic and exposition heavy dialogue, flashback heavy backstories (a definite ode to Lost), boxed characters that already began to irritate (an awful female FBI agent wasn’t even killed off but smartly won’t be returning for episode II), and a premise that may have a challenge to build and sustain over time.

Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent and the author of a true story serial killer book who is called back into duty when James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll, the serial killer in question in Hardy’s book and an author himself, brutally kills (let the graphic body count begin!) some prison guards before escaping from a federal penitentiary.  We learn that Joe Carroll’s last victim before incarceration, Sarah Fuller (played by Lost alum Maggie Grace, just in case you took Lost off your mind for a second), survived his last attack because of the persevering Javert-like commitment and detective work of Hardy who was there to save the day, and is now, ten years later, a doctor in Virginia suburbia.  The new FBI brass (particularly Shawn Ashmore’s tech savvy agent) and victims of Carroll’s past (including Carroll’s ex-wife, Claire Matthews, played by Natalie Zea who long ago had some kind of affair with Hardy) revere the ground Hardy walks on and will only speak to him (this is emphasized one too many times).  It all gets real when the woman with writing all over her naked body stabs her eye after receiving a text from Carroll.  It turns out that Joe Carroll, a former professor of romantic literature (Thoreau, Emerson, and obsessively, Edgar Allen Poe), has a cult-like following (thus the title) of serial killer copycats who will do anything (quite unrealistically I might add which is thankfully acknowledged by one of the smarter agents) in the name of their teacher.  It is revealed that a prison guard under Carroll’s spell (with a propensity to practice killing on helpless animals in his basement) is another disciple and was the likely aider and abetter to Carroll’s prison break.  Sarah Fuller lives next door to two (something was amiss from the beginning, especially on the Fox network) gay men who, in a twist that everyone saw coming, turn out to be members of the church of Joe Carroll as well and abduct Sarah Fuller right under the noses of FBI protection (secret tunnels through closets will allow for such action).  Hardy’s detective skills lead him to a rundown bed and breakfast where he and Carroll have their first onscreen confrontation (Ryan Hardy – meet two by four to the head) before (SPOILER ALERT!) it is revealed that Hardy is too late and Sarah Fuller is already dead (Carroll kindly discusses how hard it is to remove an eye from the seven muscles that connect it to the body.  Thanks so much for this intel.).  The FBI support pulls the despondent (Joe Carroll – meet Ryan Hardy choke hold) Hardy off of Carroll’s neck and sends the serial killer back to prison.  As the episode ends, we learn that the two gay men (imbedded in a plot to kidnap Sarah Fuller for three hard to believe years) along with the nanny to Claire Matthew’s and Joe Carroll’s nine year-old son have abducted little Joey.  Future episodes (“this season on…”) promise jailhouse confrontations between Hardy and Carroll, some in fighting among the nanny and gay couple followers, more romantic backstory about Claire and Ryan, and a new FBI-type character played by Annie Parisse.

So far, there are a few things that are working for The Following:

  • Both Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy (most notably of HBO’s Rome) are competent actors whose cat and mouse game, seemingly central to the action of this show, will be intriguing to watch.
  • Kevin Williamson, no stranger to the horror genre, packs in several “gotcha to jump up out of your seat” moments (a trend that will likely continue), that may disallow other forms of external distractions (my favorite is diving into the IMDB information maze any time the action on screen becomes dull) from pervading the viewing experience.
  • The “follower of the week” format will allow for an endless number of character introductions.
  • The Following, although serialized for television, sports a movie-like psychological DNA that could be an asset for tension building over time.
  • Killing off Maggie Grace always seems to make sense (Shannon had worn out her welcome on Lost too).

Unfortunately, if the tone of the show set by the pilot is any indicator of what is to come, The Following is a cold, and unemotional journey through a psychological game of serial killing that will yield few warm returns on your investment.  The following premise of The Following takes many a logic leap and may be too much of a buy-in to sustain viability over time.  Although Kevin Bacon can deliver a role, he has never been an actor that makes you root for him, so the thought of spending several episodes (let alone several seasons) with him as the protagonist is less than comforting.  Thrills and chills only go so far (this may be reason why horror movies are usually short and sweet) if character connection is not made.  The language comes across as unrealistic (there is a bit too much emphasis on full names – I am not sure I have come across a pilot I came out of knowing more surnames of characters) and is exposition-heavy and nuance-lite.  Each character revealed to follow James Purefoy’s Joe Carroll seems like too far a reach (The nanny?  Really?) and may further derail any future attempts at believability throughout the life of the series.

With all this in mind, the pacing and tension will sustain my interest for at least a little while.  The task for The Following in coming weeks is to make me actually care about the characters, especially Bacon’s Ryan Hardy, whose pacemaker-supported heart must produce more of a pulse.

What did you all think?  Are you a follower?  Would you rather just play a healthy game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon than watch him on your TV?

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  He writes weekly TV columns on Afterbuzztv.com and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.