Tag Archives: The Following

The Television DVR Power Rankings (First Annual)

I recently read two pieces that evoked some interesting ideas about the nature of our TV viewing.  Andy Greenwald, Grantland.com’s television and pop culture sensei, addressed an interesting television loyalty conundrum in his most recent mailbag column that is particularly relevant as many of us, including myself, have begrudgingly plodded most of our way to The Office series finale this week.  When is the right time to bid adieu to an old television relationship when we know that the show (and subsequently our loyal connection to its characters, host, or competition format) is no longer the same program that we originally fell for?  Why are some necessary show breakups so easy to make (American Idol when Simon left, 90210 without Brandon Walsh) while others (season five of Alias) pose such a struggle?  Alan Sepinwall, the author of The Revolution Was Televised and the most prolific of television recap pioneers, discussed how the wealth of great TV has made it harder for him to keep up with the good TV (particularly on the broadcast networks) and that many quality programs are left idle on a DVR queue.

Both Greenwald and Sepinwall highlight a burgeoning issue that these record/stream/on demand times that we now live in have created: there is just so much television viewing bandwidth that each of us has (both in terms of time and number of different storylines we can follow) and with the DVR as our tool of television viewing stratification, we have complete control over what and how we prioritize.  We are the masters of our viewing lives which means that with a close to infinite amount of time, a CBS procedural (pick any one really) could be a compelling viewing choice, but with a more limited amount of time and attention, not everything can make it out of the innards of our DVR storage attic.

With all of this in mind, I have decided to create the first annual (here’s to trying!) Television DVR Power Rankings.  Appropriately timed to coalesce with the end of the broadcast television season, the Television DVR Power Rankings will finally ask me to organize and identify the why behind the already somewhat established what that is my television viewing.

Here are the ground rules:

  1. You are hypothetically given one television seating.  What would you watch?  This takes into account the following numerous show length differences – half hour (closer to twenty two minutes) or hour on network, half hour (closer to an actual thirty minutes) or hour on pay cable (closer to an actual hour), SNL’s ninety minute run that includes lots of commercials and even more moments to fast forward (musical guests, sketches that lead to nowhere), bloated (and sadly standard) two hour episodes of Celebrity Apprentice or singing competitions, and the perfectly timed close to ninety minute romp that is the brilliant Sherlock.
  2. If The Bachelor is ranked 17 and Person of Interest is ranked 16, it means that if you only had one television viewing, you would choose to watch the best episode of Person of Interest over the best episode of The Bachelor.
  3. The Lost Corollary: You are comparing the best edition of each show this year.  Although Lost had some episodes that made me yearn for amnesia (I am looking at you the awful Jack gets a tattoo episode featuring Bai Ling), the six season finales were always prolific.  Take the best version of each show as your point of comparison.
  4. Sports and news programs are not included in these rankings.  I am not considering Real Time with Bill Maher and The Daily Show with John Stewart news programs even if I admittedly go to them for news.
  5. When applicable, actual DVR activity is important.  If a show rarely lasts longer than twenty-four hours on my queue, this leads to a higher ranking.  If I have a back log of eight unwatched episodes on my queue (tough moment Person of Interest), this is not a good thing.
  6. The external media and social repercussions of delayed viewing matter.  For example, if I have to wait a week before I can listen to a Hollywood Prospectus podcast on the Grantland Pop Culture Network because I am two weeks behind on Mad Men, this is significant.  If I have to avoid twitter or the internet until I have finished a show, this makes a difference.  The blogosphere couldn’t care less about what went down on a random episode of Shark Tank, whereas if you go to work on Monday morning having missed the previous night’s Game of Thrones, you better plan to bring water from home because the metaphoric cooler is off limits (spoiler alert indeed).
  7. For the purposes of this ranking, the TV season is June – May (allowing for shows like Breaking Bad from last summer to be included).
  8. I must have DVRed or watched (note: this is not how many viewings I had) at least two episodes to be included in the rankings.
  9. Shows released through streaming services (House of Cards) or watched through streaming services (HBO GO) are included as long as the episodes were new within the given year.  Girls and Top of the Lake count, whereas my re-viewing of Battlestar Galactica and Alias on Netflix do not.

Now, before Don Draper’s season six self can upset my wife more than he already has, on to the rankings…


American Idol

When Simon left American Idol, I left with him (although when Philip Phillips’ “Home” won this year’s “Clocks” by Coldplay award for Song Most Overplayed in a Given Year, it was difficult to keep my distance).  I do miss the five months I used to spend every season with Ryan Seacrest in my life (and to my discredit, he is not that hard to find pretty much everywhere now if I put in a little effort), but based on all media reports, I jumped a sinking ship just at the right time.  What an embarrassment it appears to have become.


Showtime and I seem to have difficulty matching our calendars.  I always seem to have three free months when Homeland is off the air.  I have seen season 1 over the course of a binge weekend viewing last May, but have not yet ventured into the apparently scary and sophomore slumped season 2.

37. Zero Hour

36. The Last Resort

It has been a tough time for ABC in the Thursday night 8:00 PM slot.  The Last Resort lasted a hot few seconds this fall and Zero Hour a shorter hot second this spring.  I deleted them from my queue when ABC bid adieu with some episodes left unwatched.  My hope for Anthony Edwards (er) and Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street) to make a return to my TV viewing regimen after so many years away was quickly capsized.

35. Revolution

34. Hannibal

I tried Revolution because I am a devoted follower of the J.J. Abrams Television factory (see Lost, Alias), but the long hiatus dried up my interest such that by the time it came back in March, I questioned my general enjoyment (very little) of the show in the first place.  Hannibal, recommended by TV men I trust (Sepinwall and Greenwald), got one viewing out of me before I deleted it from the queue last week after having forgotten to record a recent episode.  I considered when I was going to make time to catch up, I realized that I probably wouldn’t.  Ouch.  It will probably get cancelled anyway because NBC apparently has no idea how to market its few quality shows.

33. The Amazing Race

The Amazing Race is one of the best examples of the perils of TV viewing bandwidth.  Although I don’t agree with all the Emmy love in the reality competition program category (Survivor is consistently looked over for even a nomination), The Amazing Race is a well-produced, occasionally compelling, beautifully shot, and very easy to watch (let’s just say it does not require Games of Thrones-like focus) hour of television.  Unfortunately, often delayed by NFL football game duration ripple effects on Sunday nights in the fall, if I don’t prepare by recording into The Good Wife at 9:00 PM just in case one too many instant replays in a 4:00 PM Chargers game in Denver forces 60 Minutes to begin after 7:00 PM, I am missing portions of episodes.  Once I miss portions of episodes and don’t feel compelled to catch up on-line, I lose interest.  This has probably happened to me at least five times by now.  If I lose interest in the fall, I rarely come back to the new season in the spring (as was this case this year).  The Amazing Race is a fine show that makes itself too easy to miss.  Good or bad, you don’t want to be a show that breeds apathy.

32. Bates Motel

Carlton Cuse was one of the two Lost showrunners and Vera Farmiga has always been enjoyable on screen, so I thought I would give Bates Motel a go when it debuted in March.  It is now mid May and I have yet to watch even one shot of one episode.  On the plus side, I do not have a season pass and have yet to fail to record an episode (all eight are sitting idle in my queue), so there’s that.  If I need more DVR space, it is the first thing to go.

31. The Following

Back in January, I began writing weekly recaps of The Following.  Back in March, I stopped writing weekly recaps of The Following because I did not enjoy writing recaps of The Following.  I did not enjoy writing recaps of The Following because I did not enjoy watching The Following.   I did not enjoy watching The Following because the The Following is a bad show.  I have five episodes to go to complete the season and I have many times sat down to take the plunge, only to choose to re-watch season 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones instead.  If The Following somehow disappeared from my queue, my response would be, “finally.”

30. Shark Tank

My relationship with Shark Tank is a masterclass in negligence.  It certainly interests me when I am watching and I sometimes will choose to watch a segment when I have ten minutes to kill, but often this season (and it has been a long one that likely cost the Mavs Deron Williams and his great attitude last offseason) I have randomly deleted unwatched episodes to make more room on my queue.  This is not the best of signs.

29. The Killing

Season 2 of The Killing was an exercise in the dreariest and most frustrating forms of futility.  The promise of the premise and those first few episodes of season 1 were long forgotten by the end of this rainy nightmare.  I kept watching because once you invest in a mystery, you feel compelled to be there for the eventual solve.  Unfortunately, the implausible outcome of the Sarah Larson case was so far from worth it.  Amazingly brought back for a third season (and a new mystery), I will give the program a second go for two episodes (my belief in the premise and Joel Kinnaman are the only reasons), but I expect a swift departure.

28. Bachelor Pad

Not returning this summer (a small disappointment), Bachelor Pad was an easy summer fill-in when more traditional reality TV programs were between seasons.  As a competition show, it is not too quality.  As a dating show, it even more of a tough sell as a means to find love than its major league precursors of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.  Notwithstanding, it kept my interest, had a buzzworthy finale, and was a perfect place for Tierra from this season’s The Bachelor to extend her fifteen minutes.  It’s too bad.

27. Person of Interest

Of all shows in the rankings, Person of Interest is most influenced by its only loose flirtations with serialized storytelling (it is as procedural a drama as I watch) and the lack of any form of media attention.  If I am behind on an episode (right now the number is eight), there is no external repercussion.  I have never met anyone who watches Person of Interest, never read a weekly recap, and never seen anything about it on-line besides an occasional EW check-in review.  I find it to be a compelling, well-conceived hour of television with enjoyable actors (Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel) playing enjoyable superhero archetypes in a realistic world, but I just don’t have time in my weekly grind to make time for it.  When I do get around to watching it (last year I caught up with season 1 sometime in the fall), I will enjoy myself, but until then, may the queue hold its contents strong.

26. The Mindy Project

If you haven’t been a part of the wonderful world of Mindy Kaling, the time is whenever you have it.  The Mindy Project consistently delivers (although I like parts of episodes more than episodes as a whole), but rarely stands out as a viewing priority.  I often find myself one or two weeks behind.  In a world next season without 30 Rock and The Office, The Mindy Project may take a higher place on these rankings, but until that time, there is no rush to view (Ironically, tonight is the season finale.  I will probably get around to it after the NBA Playoffs are over in June).

25. Elementary

Elementary has had a bright freshmen season.  It benefits from Jonny Lee Miller’s striking charisma, epic hiatuses between each Sherlock series that prevent Arthur Conan Doyle character over-saturation, and well-constructed little mysteries of the week.  Procedural at its core, it does not shy away from serialized character development.  Both Joan Watson and Sherlock have undergone some effective narrative arcs that make watching it more time sensitive than its CBS procedural brethren.  It is one of the first dramas I get to when Sunday nights on HBO and AMC are in their dark periods.

24. The X Factor

Since The X Factor last aired its overblown self in December, Simon Cowell’s producer brain trust said goodbye to LA Reid (his choice), Khloe Kardashian as co-host (she gave it her best effort, but just wasn’t any good), and Britney Spears (an “amazing” train wreck of a judge).  Simon, Mario Lopez, and Demi Lovato are coming back (her new self-titled album out today!) and will all have another upward battle to relevance in an audience landscape that has grown weary of all the talent competition programs.  I am rooting for The X Factor because I believe in Simon and have for so many years, but I would not be surprised that sometime in the next twelve months, Fox (on their schedule) or I (on my DVR) delete this program from our lives.

23. Modern Family

22. 30 Rock

21. Parks and Recreation

30 Rock has aired its last episodes, and, unlike The Office (until recently at least), gave its loyal viewers a wonderful final season.  I had been with 30 Rock since the beginning and was emotional about its ending (December’s series finale remains on my queue).  Despite my consistent enjoyment of almost every episode, it never found its way closer to the hypothetical top of past DVR rankings because it shied away from serialization and too much sentimentality (I am a sucker) and it promoted zany and unrealistic circumstances.  The low ranking also speaks to my taste in comedy (questionable) more than to the quality execution of Tina Fey’s television darling (consistently brilliant).  Parks and Recreation has been my pound for pound favorite comedy over the past two seasons (since Michael left The Office) and watching an episode is like the television version of eating a piece of vanilla cake – delicious.  It will likely be the highest ranked scripted comedy I watch next season.  Modern Family has posed a viewing conundrum recently.  I have begun to be in the camp that there are just so many happy family stories a show can yield, and, often (and appropriately) devoid of any high stakes consequences (when Hayley got kicked out of college it was a little too much “no big deal” for me), I have become less and less compelled to watch.  If I were told that this week’s Modern Family was its last, I would be fine with that.  This doesn’t mean that I am going to stop watching and enjoying each episode, it just means that it no longer feels as essential to my television viewing experience.

20. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is the biggest beneficiary of number six of the ground rules.  I enjoy being a part of The Walking Dead experience more than I enjoy watching The Walking Dead (at least since season 1).  Besides Hershel, Maggie, and Daryl, I am not sure I even like any of the other characters on the show and Rick may be the all-time worst lead character I have ever watched consistently on a television program (his long speech scenes are just horrendous).  The Walking Dead also benefits from one of the best tension catching theme songs I have ever heard (er was pretty wonderful) that pulls you in after the three minutes prologue of each episode into a false belief that you will have a reason to care again.  To its credit, writers have killed off several of the most horrific characters, so there is hope yet for Rick!

19. Sherlock

Sherlock may produce the best 86 minutes of any program on this list, but it is on so infrequently and for so little time (each series is three episodes of this length), it is hard to place it up higher with the big boys.

18. House of Cards

I binged on House of Cards over the course of three days in March.  Although I remember little from the experience besides how much I loved Corey Stoll’s portrayal of a charismatic congressmen with a few too many demons, I recognize that if I were watching weekly, it would be competing closer to the top of these rankings.  It is quality programming (led my David Fincher’s visionary directorial lead) that always begged me to keep going.

17. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is probably one of the five best shows I have ever seen on television and Bryan Cranston gives the best of acting performances, yet of the shows ranked so high, it is the program I like the least.  Spending five seasons with Walter White has been an exercise in lowering expectations and the devolving of the humanity and integrity of an American family.  Void of any really redeeming characters, I find it hard to enjoy a program in which I have no one to root for.

16. The Bachelor

Influenced by wonderful weekly conversations between Juliet Litman and David Jacoby and propelled by a fun stay at the Bachelor Pad last summer, I decided to hop on to the ABC ratings juggernaut this fall.  Although I am aware that The Bachelor’s track record for maintaining post show love is an unquestionable failure, I found Sean Lowe’s journey to find a wife candidate genuine and heartfelt.  It is so well-produced and sensitive to the viewers emotional leanings that the buy-in happens almost immediately.  This season, in particular, benefitted from the experience that was Tierra (and, like Survivor, a season can be judged on the quality of contestants), but I do think the format and execution are some of the best you will find in the reality TV world.

15. The Celebrity Apprentice: All-Stars

I have been threatening to fire myself from the boardroom for several seasons now, but, like The Amazing Race, it is easy to whip out the old series pass manager, but, unlike The Amazing Race, the spring season on NBC that The Celebrity Apprentice inhabits does not compete with NFL games for schedule time sanctity.  An admitted guilty pleasure (sometimes at least), Donald will often remind the viewer that The Apprentice was once (according to some metrics, it is a little like the three scientists who say global warming is a hoax) the most watched show on television and the creative project/boardroom format still provides some evidence why.  I do not like Donald Trump, I struggle with his sons Erik and Don Jr. (Ivanka is wonderful), and I rarely have a “celebrity” that I care about, but the tasks remain somewhat interesting (albeit obnoxiously self-promotional), Gary Busey is an unsolvable riddle of a man that I still want to solve, and a weekly elimination of past seasons all-stars (all of which I watched before) still breeds my attention.  Do I wish that I my relationship with The Celebrity Apprentice had been terminated many years ago?  Absolutely, I just want someone else to tell me “you’re fired.”

14. Real Time with Bill Maher

A recent add-on to the queue since Dad’s HBO Go account became an actualization with my Apple TV, Real Time could be ranked higher if it showed up for watching at a consistent time (it is always sometime after Friday and before Tuesday) or at least closer to the original Friday night airing.  There is no hour of television in which I learn more and think more.  Bill Maher has been a part of my television life since his Politically Incorrect days on Comedy Central and I am grateful that I can finally watch him again (I was consuming his program via podcast for the last several years).

13. Top of the Lake

Elisabeth Moss is a detective in the New Zealand outback solving a mystery as told through the lush, beautiful, and unique lens of Jane Campion.  Yes, please.  Top of the Lake was everything The Killing was not (good?).  Only six total hours of a story that has a beginning, middle, and logical end, Top of the Lake was one of the best things I saw this year.  Now Netflix streamable, I highly recommend.

12. Mad Men

Mad Men is a layered, engrossing, and provocative television masterpiece.  A little late to the game (I binged on the first three seasons via the Netflix), I have subsequently happily awaited the each season of ten Sunday nights of shows over the course of the past three years (season 6 has a handful of episodes left to air) that I have watched “live.”  I was legitimately concerned in 2010 upon completion of The Wire that I would struggle to find another television show of equal quality, and, although very different in scope and texture, Mad Men is certainly in the conversation for the best television I have ever watched.  At the same time, something has felt a little bit different this year.  Next to Game of Thrones (not by network, but by consecutive time slot), I find myself yearning for the power players of Westeros much more than for the power players of Madison Avenue.  I think it may be a matter of stakes – Don’s escapades and his new (but tired) path down extramarital affair land has never felt so superfluous, especially with the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy framing the significant historical context.  Mad Men is still Mad Men, I just care a little differently.

11. The Americans

The Americans, the freshmen period drama on FX set in 1981 about two KGB spies playing a deep cover game of house with two children, is the best new drama of the past two seasons (this includes Homeland).  Keri Russell’s Elizabeth Jennings is one of the finest performances of the year and Matthew Rhys, as her husband Phillip, matches her scene for scene.  It is largely character driven and utilizes period authenticity as a backdrop, not as a leading concept (as many replica period shows after Mad Men have tried).  The spy stuff is so much more fun without the modern technology that provides us with constant connectivity.  Dead drops under park benches, listening devices in shelf clocks, and good old-fashioned hair disguises create a different (and I would argue better) type of suspense.

10. Saturday Night Live

9. The Daily Show with John Stewart

I occasionally watch SNL or The Daily Show live, but most of the time, it will be my ritualized first order on the agenda (over breakfast) the next morning.  SNL is an institution of American television that I freely admit in 2013 delivers less and less frequently.  There is rarely a bit or a sketch that compares favorably to the writing on 30 Rock (or The Daily Show for that matter), but like a sports team that I have followed for most of my life, I am loyal and as long as Lorne Michaels is the Executive Producer (and my DVR is working properly), I won’t jump ship.  Its mythology and esteem so immersed in a nostalgic history, it fits so well with my sensibility.  I am more into how this cast or this sketch fits into the bigger historical picture than with my general enjoyment thereof.  Today’s announcement that this week’s season finale will be Bill Hader’s last as a member of the cast is just another inevitable departure on a cast (but probably more like a sports roster) that is as much about who is leaving as who is arriving.  I really enjoy Bill Hader as an impressionist and as versatile leading player and he will certainly be missed, but like his Studio 8H forerunners, there will be another new talent to come in and fill his shoes.  The Daily Show with John Stewart continues to be one of my favorite sources for news commentary, although I think it has gone through some growing pains in recent years with fewer correspondent stories (a staple during its heyday with Carell, Colbert, and Helms) and more repetitive bits.  I continue to marvel at the writing staff who manage to put out mostly brilliant work four times a week and to John Stewart for evolving and continually upping his game (and for his ability to read some very long books over the course of a three day weekend).  His brief hiatus from the hosting chair (John Oliver is the perfect fill-in choice) this summer will be an intriguing precursor to the day when The Daily Show and John Stewart part ways.  We will get to see how much of our of The Daily Show enjoyment is about its phenomenal host.

8. The Office

This week, The Office has its series finale episode and for much of this season (really only until the last two episodes), it couldn’t have come soon enough.  I have been with the Scranton Dunder Mifflin branch since it began and I freely admit the show has been a challenge to watch since Steve Carell left two seasons ago.  As explored in Andy Greenwald’s aforementioned column, when is the right time to leave a show that is no longer making the show you fell in love with?  There were many times over the past two seasons when I just wanted to have an excuse to leave, but I was never able to find one.  What became even more peculiar was my viewing tendency.  I would, despite my increasingly negative feelings toward the show, choose to watch The Office first on Thursday night (over the much better at this stage in their career Parks and Recreation and whatever dramas on CBS that were recording).  The Office remained my go-to program and despite my acknowledgment of decreasing returns, I never strayed from it.  While watching last week’s penultimate episode that coalesces perfectly around the central romantic relationships between Jim and Pam and Dwight and Angela, it struck me why leaving a show is so hard.  I not only cared about these people and was deeply invested in their lives, but I cared about how that investment had affected my life.  This is why TV is such a wonderful medium – we are given the luxury of time to spend with characters or hosts or valued competition formats over the course of many years.  These shows are given the opportunity to become so deeply imbedded and connected to substantial periods of our lives.  I thought about my personal journey in conjunction with Jim and Pam’s journey and remembered the unbelievable changes that have occurred in my life (specifically romantic life) as I have watched Jim’s unrequited flirtation form into the most genuine, beautiful, more recently difficult, but always honest of fictional romances that I will ever have the pleasure to watch in any storytelling medium.  If Party of Five was a show that I watched as I was coming of age as an adolescent and will be forever linked to that time, The Office has been a show that has accompanied some massive transformations in my young adult life.  I have such rich memories of past seasons and my external circumstances that surrounded them.  The Office series end will really mark the end of this era of my life and what a ride it has been.

7. The Real World: Portland and St. Thomas

Despite the island of boredom that was The Real World: St. Thomas, Portland has more than made up for it with Hurricane Nia force winds of drama.  A loyal viewer since 1995 (this is hard for me to even believe), The Real World remains my first reality TV love and continues to deliver compelling television.  In a similar vein to SNL, my Real World love lives in nostalgia and history.  Each new season adds on to that legacy and, at this point, I will be a viewer as long as it continues.

6. Girls

At close to thirty minutes of universal quality, Girls packs so much into each installment and may be the best bang for your buck at an incredible television seating.  I do question how long it has to be sensational – season 2 was a different kind of fun than season 1 (in a melancholic, depressing, and obsessive compulsive kind of way) and I do wonder if there is a point where watching Hannah and her friends struggle so much to find happiness will be just too much to endure.

5. Funny or Die presents: Billy on the Street

Billy on the Street wins both the award for show that I audibly laughed at the most (beating 30 Rock by a wide margin) and was in the top three for shows that I most often watched live (along with Survivor and The Challenge).  Here are some tangible examples why:

4. The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons

Much has been written about The Challenge on this space (see my weekly power rankings from Battle of the Seasons and my column with picks for an all-star season), so I won’t beleaguer too much more of the same here.  One thing I will say – I am consistently more excited for both the season premiere and the season finale of The Challenge than of any other show in these rankings.

3. Game of Thrones

In the grand tradition of Lost (more on this in a bit), Game of Thrones has become my favorite dramatic series on television.  Also like Lost and pertinent to these rankings, I am put at a decided and unwelcome social disadvantage if I step out in public on a Monday morning without having viewed the previous evening’s Game of Thrones episode.  Game of Thrones is the social television of the moment and it is a pleasure to be a part of it.  In addition, despite its fantasy book roots, GoT reminds me of all that was great about The Wire.  Its’ expansive patchwork of characters, social classes, and objectives takes a certain type of viewing focus to fully understand.  I certainly struggle at times to make sense of it all (I have decided to not read the books concurrently – I want to experience the show without a narrative comparison), but when earned, the rewards are that much greater.  It also boasts the best television show opening ever.

2. Survivor

(SPOILER ALERT) When Cochran won the twenty-sixth season of Survivor in a landslide jury vote last Sunday night, I found myself having a tremendous amount of pride.  Like Cochran, my Survivor journey began thirteen years ago with the season finale of season 1 (I will always remember the experience watching with my parents in a CT hotel room the night before I moved into my freshmen year college dorm) and I was sincerely happy for this seemingly like-minded devoted follower.  Cochran’s fandom and his unlikely transformation and ascension to the Survivor crown represent the best of what Survivor can be.  Its successful longevity is a byproduct of many things, but none more important than the perfect blend of an excellent game format and an excellent host in Jeff Probst.  Interestingly enough, Sunday’s finale went head to head with both Game of Thrones and Mad Men and it was a no-brainer to choose to watch Survivor first.  Originally to avoid print, internet, and television spoilers, I began watching Survivor the night that it airs and as close to live as possible.  Now, largely removed from the greater pop culture conversation, I watch Survivor first because it remains the most reliable, consistent, comforting, and entertaining hour of television.  Some casts work better than others, but the journey through tribal council spokens and immunity and reward challenges as participants try to outwit, outplay, and eventually outlast one another has proven to be the most successful of formulas.

1. Lost (an emeritus selection)

Lost, my favorite show of all-time, still sits on top of my series priority manager (in case of a conflict) on my DVR and, after almost three years since the series finale, it is going nowhere.  The First Annual DVR Power Rankings would not be complete without Lost ranked first. 

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

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.


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.  


Yes, “The Fall,” this week’s “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the farmhouse” episode of The Following, may have destroyed (finally!) the pitiful “Emma, Jacob, and Paul share a life together” construct that had mired this program in some of the worst dialogue TV has ever heard, but based on the “everyone is a follower” new reality that allowed for an unrealistic escape and SWAT team coup d’état, there may be no light at the end of this serialized tunnel.  Notwithstanding, there is much we can learn from this episode about what is to come, about life, and about Claire’s taste in music.

Without further ado, here are the 11 most important things we learned from this week’s “The Fall” episode:

1. Ryan Hardy’s Kryptonite may be any kind of electrical shock that messes with his pacemaker.  Other Kryptonite candidates include drinking alcohol out of water bottles and getting involved in Joe Carroll’s case in the first place.

2. It is possible that Joey cares more about Paul and Jacob’s well-being more than Emma/Denise/crazy nanny.  It is also possible that Joey is a follower because based on the events in “The Fall,” anyone can be a follower!

3. At the end of the episode, Claire and Ryan were competing for the “most awkward hug ever on network television” award and at this point they are the one to beat.

4. Meghan Leeds, contrary to past actions, can successfully escape from farmhouses by running away.  Meghan, we are so proud of you.

5. Claire loves the music of Celine Dion (at least enough to attend a live concert, albeit a benefit).  Joe Carroll (“good god”) apparently does not.

6. In the world of The Following, “I am your follower” may be used as a pick-up line.

7. Paul, Jacob, and Emma are not the brightest characters that ever been conceived for television (Oops, we already knew that.  There is no harm in confirming).

8. Charlie, Claire’s abductor, seems like the ideal candidate to replace Emma in the Jacob/Paul love triangle.  His “lost and not too bright” quality will fit right in.

9. The writers of The Following think that conversations about embarrassment over “being gay” resonate with audiences.

10. Parker’s trip to Iowa in 2004 to see her cultish parents did not go too well and it wasn’t because the Field of Dreams park was closed for the season.

11. Next week Joe Carroll, through some legal wrangling, is granted a prison transfer (and we know how well prison transfers always seem to go).

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  For more in-depth opinions on movies, check out the “5 Things You Need To Know” page.


In my “searching for an explanation” mind, this is the conversation that could have happened in the writers room between The Following showrunner and head writer Kevin Williamson and Rebecca Dameron, a staff writer whose previous credits include Army Wives and Dirt, after last week’s “viewer discretion is advised because it is terrible television” episode titled “Mad Love”:

RD: Hi Kevin, do you think I could talk to you?

KW: Of course, Rebecca.  What is on your mind?

RD: I have been working on writing next week’s episode and I was hoping to run some of my ideas by you.  Some of them may be a little dramatic.

KW: Ooh, more drama?  Like another shower scene for Paul, Jacob, and Emma?  Will there be more amazing senseless and unjustified violent scenes?  Will Meghan, the store clerk hostage, have another opportunity to cry?  I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

RD: Actually, I wanted to try something a little new…

KW: Ok, I mean are we talking about showing Ryan Hardy using a bottle of soda instead of a bottle of water as an alcoholic container because we haven’t tried that yet?

RD: Hmm.  Not that.

KW: There are several of Poe’s short poems that we haven’t used…

RD: Yeah, so I was kind of thinking that it might be time for the whole farmhouse plot to reach a climax.

KW: Rebecca, this show is on Fox at 9 PM so although I would love to show more of the Emma and Paul sex scenes…

RD: No!  I was talking about having Ryan and the FBI find the farmhouse and attempt to rescue Joey.

KW: Hmm.  Has Joey even had enough time to check out all of his toys yet?  It seemed like he just got to the farm?

RD: Yeah, so I was going to call it “The Siege” and Ryan and some local police are going to find the farmhouse just as Joey is realizing that this whole experience is not really what it seems.  I also thought I would end the episode in a little cliffhanger with Ryan being caught by Paul in an attempt to rescue Joey.  The last shot would be a gun to Ryan’s head.  Hopefully this will set-up a standoff between the FBI and the “followers” with Ryan and Joey stuck inside.

KW: Wow, there is a lot to consider.  So your cliffhanger is not going to involve the reveal of a new follower and a showcase of an awesome violent act?

RD: No, I was just thinking that you would be left with the uncertainty of Ryan and Joey in danger?

KW: Well, if you are going to call it “The Siege,” there must be some wonderful opportunities for the most violent casualties along the way.  I mean, unjustified and gratuitous violence is our brand!

RD: Yeah, I thought about making the casualties come across as justified and real.  I also wanted to introduce a new layer to the plot involving Joe Carroll’s lawyer sending a message through the media that sets the next group of followers into action.

KW: More followers?  I always just assumed that Emma, Jacob, and Paul would be enough?

RD: I just thought that since the show is called The Following, maybe Joe Carroll’s endgame has to be a little bit more involved than just these three and the memories of Rick and Jordy?

KW: Alright, Rebecca Dameron.  Go for it!  I am off working on a new screenplay called “I Know What Dawson Did Last Winter” anyway.  Best of luck with your teleplay!

My crude attempt at satire notwithstanding, “The Siege” (actually penned by Rebecca Dameron), was definitively the best episode of the series to date and really found its way in the 24 model.  The suspense and pacing were on point, the plot actually thickened with productive forward movement, the “lawyer message/unleash the twins” subplot took the show in an appreciative new direction, and, although there were still deaths on this murderous trail, they were within the construct of the story and did not present as gratuitous for violence’s sake.  This was riveting TV and represents a respectable high ceiling for what The Following could consistently be.  I hope Rebecca Dameron gets more opportunities (or writers like her) and that next week’s “The Fall” is finally the fall of the farmhouse follower love triangle of Emma, Jacob, and Paul.

What do you all think?  Did “The Siege” deliver some new hope?  Are you excited for another episode devoid of violence for violence’s sake?  Does Joey get some revenge?

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


Every The Following episode begins with the ominous voice of television doom reminding us that “viewer discretion is advised.”  This designation stems from the use of suggestive language (apparently there are quite a few inappropriate innuendos in Poe’s catalog of work), language itself (is this a warning about some questionable dialogue?), sexual situations (like Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews “getting to know each other” flashbacks?), and violence (The Following’s incessant and overused calling card).  Considering the recent narrative events and a growing “elephant in the room” of an otherwise watchable and intriguing, if not captivating, suspense filled drama series, I would formally like to add a fifth category for viewer discretion: “unwatchable scenes involving the nanny and the two gay guys.”

In this week’s episode entitled “Mad Love” (an actual winning title for the events that transpired), the situation on the Emma/Jacob/Paul farm is in shambles.  Last week Paul, in an uninspired, unmotivated, and unrealistic fit of jealous rage, took a little trip to a local convenience store and abducted an easily seduced store clerk (“When do you get off work?”).  He then brilliantly decides to bring her to the farmhouse basement to prove to Emma and Jacob just how serious about this situation he is!  Joey, still blissfully chilling with his toys, must not find out about the tied up young girl in the cellar or he will start to suspect something is amiss (and he is already beginning to), so the unwitting store clerk named Meghan Leeds must be killed.  Paul, to prove this most unnecessary point, thinks that Jacob should be the one to do it.  Apparently, unlike Paul and Emma who came into the land of Joe Carroll because of a mutual interest in the killing arts, Jacob fabricated his murderous backstory to the little legion of doom and has yet to do the deed.  Emma does not know this, but Paul does (listen – three years imbedded as boyfriends will give you the opportunity to share) and wants to get back at Jacob (this is all so silly) for having a romantic thing with Emma (“he was my man!”).  Emma is none too pleased with Jacob’s deceit (his killing history is so essential to her feelings for him) and agrees with Paul that Jacob should be the one to eliminate Meghan the unwitting store clerk.

Quick side note: If this above paragraph all seems a whole lot of terrible storytelling, you would be correct.  It is all the worse when the plot points are played out on screen with dialogue.  These are some of the worst dramatic scenes I have ever seen on television.

In a narrative strand consistent with the awfulness of the world of Emma/Paul/Jacob, but disparate from any realistic scenario, Emma and Paul decide to leave Jacob alone in the basement for many hours to kill Meghan the unwitting store clerk.  Mtusc rocks a plea bargain with sympathetic Jacob to let her go with some bloody cuts (to sell the tale) and she will never mention this little day and night at the farmhouse to anyone, ever.  Jacob not only obliges to her grovel, but he refrains from creating a bloody trail.  Mtusc, in a move that everyone saw coming, decides to run to the barn on the property instead of running away from the property.  Team Paul and Emma (bonding over their killing past now that they both know Jacob is a truth fabricator) easily track her down and, to motivate their shameful mutual boy toy, tie her up again so that Jacob will be forced to make another attempt (mind you, it seems like they have forgotten the “Joey might find out” angle).

In the worst scene of a series of worst scenes, the muddy pursuit (how and why remains a mystery) of Mtusc warrants a clean in the shower.  Emma is the first to hit the bathroom and happily invites Paul to join her and then (who didn’t see this coming?) make out (is this one of the sexual situations I was advised about?).  Jacob finds a returned Mtusc in the basement and then heads to up to the bathroom to atone for his lack of courage.  Emma lets him know that “we’re not going to give up on you” (comforting) and then Jacob decides to join the shower, but with his clothes on (BTW – where is Joey in all this?  Asleep?  Still playing with his toys?).

Thankfully, The Following is not called “Two fake gay guys, a nanny, and Joeyand has another world outside of the remote rural farmhouse of awfulness.  Ryan Hardy’s bad day (week or life really) continues when he receives a phone call from Jenny (phone number 8675309), his loyal sister and restauranteur, who has been abducted herself by Maggie, the vindictive Carroll follower whose now dead (via Hardy’s bullet) husband and love of life Rick set the world ablaze last week.  Maggie decides to go a little off the Carroll script (Yes!  I hope this trend continues) and ultimatums Hardy that unless he shows up in Brooklyn alone at Jenny’s restaurant without any FBI backup, Jenny Jenny (who can I turn to?) is going to be her next victim.  Hardy obliges the deal, but not before Mike Weston (both the viewer and Hardy learn his name for the first time, apparently the time had come) forces himself into relevance in both Hardy and the show’s life.  Weston or Mike (I couldn’t tell what he wanted us to call him) will drive Hardy to Brooklyn and then wait (patiently I might add) by a door left ajar to come and save the day if need be (Hardy’s instructions to Weston were actually to save his sister at all costs and forget about him).

At the Brooklyn upscale eatery, Hardy willingly accepts the blindfold challenge laid out by Maggie (never a good idea), is knocked out, and then tied up to a table of danger.  Maggie has purchased a series of magnets that will effectively tamper with Ryan’s pacemaker and cause cardiac arrest.  Maggie wants Jenny to watch her brother and only family she has left die (we learn in a Claire Matthews/Ryan Hardy “getting to know you” flashback conversation that was playfully ironic that the older Hardy brother died in 9/11 – of course).  Weston or Mike (great to have you onboard!) storms in just in time, kills Maggie (it was time), and saves Ryan from his death.  The catch in all of this is that Maggie and the horrible farmhouse trio had been in phone contact on a secure line that the FBI group can now track down (and do!) to a remote location in upstate New York.  This means that, as previewed in “next week on The Following,” Hardy, Weston, and the good guy team are going to attempt to rescue Joey from the most awful characters in modern television history!  One silver lining of the Emma/Jacob/Paul catastrophe is in the fact that on The Following character kill-offs are commonplace, so maybe we will soon be out of the crosshairs of this unwatchable threesome.  My hope is that next week brings such a conclusion.

What do you all think?  Are you on Team Jacob or Team Paul?  Will Meghan the unwitting store clerk survive the FBI raid?  Is Jenny Hardy an incredible cook?

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 Poet’s Fire

Poor Ryan Hardy.  The burdensome symbiosis of his relationship with serial killer and incarcerated Poe mask cult leader Joe Carroll (as we learn in this episode, Hardy may have had time as one of Carroll’s followers, albeit non-violent) haunts his every waking (of which there are only, he’s not going back to the hotel to sleep) moments.  Each layer of Carroll’s master plan Hardy touches seems to be mired with new death by new means (Eye stabbings!  Public burnings!).  Hardy’s career success (each episode features another “I loved your book!” vignette) is intertwined and forever linked to Joe Carroll’s own serial killer career aspirations.  Without Carroll there is no Hardy and more and more, without Hardy to torment, Joe Carroll is just another charismatic English professor of 19th Century American Literature.

Although “The Poet’s Fire” was stuffed with some of the troublesome dribble that had diluted the enjoyment of the “Pilot” and “Chapter Two” (the scenes with the nanny and the fake gay neighbors are some of the worst moments of television I have ever experienced especially when Paul decides to “blow off some steam” in town), I am beginning to see this show in a different light.  As discussed a few weeks ago, The Following was billed as Fox’s attempt to bring a “the revolution was televised”-like show to network television, with all of the grittiness and storytelling risks that can come with it.  So far, those “risks” seemed to be consigned to superfluous “in your face” violence that were unwarranted and wholly unnecessary.  It was violence for violence’s sake (because The Following was somehow different) and as a talking point for the water cooler blogosphere, a challenging viewing experience.  “The Poet’s Fire” may have burned some of this silliness out of the system and illuminated The Following for what it really is – a well-paced, intense, “danger around every corner” thriller, that is less about the minions who cause damage, but more about the pyschological chess match between Ryan Hardy and Joe Carroll.  It’s ceiling is not Breaking Bad or The Shield, but instead a post Bush administration version of 24 in which Ryan Hardy’s Jack Bauer (and “Greatest American Hero” as dim-witted prison guard so maniacally sang for us) has a nemesis that is less about destroying the world and more about destroying Hardy’s world.

Jack Bauer from 24What made 24 so successful for so long (Kim Bauer and cougar battles aside) was the understanding that Jack Bauer’s tribulations through each “bad day” were going to be inherently compelling, but had to be relentlessly suspenseful.  We were going to go down all of those (often unrealistic roads) because Jack was our guy and we inevitably wanted him to succeed amidst all that adversity.  If The Following keeps the gas and the focus on “torment Ryan Hardy machine” and maintains its already somewhat successful serialized pacing, there may just be something here.  When Annie Parisse interviews Carroll, he turns to the camera (and Ryan Hardy’s audience on the other side) and says, “It must be very hard for you to be surrounded by the stench of death again.  I know this takes a terrible tole on you.  You must be careful.  What, with that little heart of yours.”  Yes, The Following writers!  This is what I am talking about!  Everything that Joe Carroll is doing is meant to destroy the already “drinking alcohol out of water bottles” Ryan Hardy.  Hardy recognizes that Carroll is “bating [him]” and that he “should have seen it coming.”  Even minion of the week and fire obsessed Rick wants to “tell Ryan it was all for him.”  In a final stroke of “nail the point home” clarity, Joey’s email video to mom ends with a smiling and waving to Ryan.

This narrative path with Ryan Hardy as the ultimate fooled follower who “knows what [Carroll’s] followers feel” may be Fox’s ticket to success.  Monday’s at 9:00 PM (24, House) have been a traditional Fox winter haven, and The Following may have, in its third week, found a formula for a meaningful future.

What do you all think?  Can The Following be a 24 incarnate?  Is Jordy going to be missed?  Why does the kidnapping subplot irritate us all so much?

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: 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.


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).