Monday, January 21, 2013

TONIGHT: will viewers flinch at The Following?

Purefoy and Bacon: hide the kiddies
Way, way back last June, when all the 2012-2013 screeners arrived from the networks, many critics felt the mid-season entry The Following was the best of the bunch. That series premieres tonight at 9 p.m.
The crime thriller is dark and gritty, with Kevin Bacon in the lead as a burnt out FBI agent re-activated to help the bureau track down a serial killer he had previously caught. Bacon's Ryan Handy knows how cunning and dangerous his adversary, played with menace by James Purefoy, really is. Just to make this extra disturbing for Canadian viewers, the guy murdered 14 female students on a college campus.
More frightening is the discovery that Purefoy's Joe Carroll now has a "following," and that a cult or network of serial killers is shaping up to be the bureau's worst nightmare.
The cast includes Shawn Ashmore, Valorie Curry and Natalie Zea. The pilot was gripping but violent, with a few scenes that had me looking away. From executive producer Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries), it premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on CTV and Fox.
Fox programming chief Kevin Reilly spent most of his recent TCA executive session defending the series, which seems more gruesome than ever in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings and renewed calls for moves to curtail gun violence. Reilly ducked and weaved, said 9 p.m. was the latest slot he could program (the network does not schedule after 10 p.m., leaving the late prime time slot up to affiliates) and that this kind of scheduling unpleasantness is going to happen in these uncertain times. Fox ran into something similar a dozen years ago when the pilot for 24--which ended with a mid-air explosion--premiered within a few days of 9/11.
To make matters worse, the network took a self-inflicted hit over a P.R. stunt that went horribly wrong. Critics, including this one, were shipped a large brown box with frightening gibberish scrawled all over it. Inside was a creepy Edgar Allan Poe mask on a dummy head. (It was Poe's 204th birthday the other day, and he figures in the series.)
The package arrived the day of the Sandy Hook shootings. It was just bad luck on Fox's part, but if they had to do it again, the answer would be "nevermore."
These were the kind of heads sent to critics. Gulp.
CTV, which launched their promotional push after the horror of the school killings, wisely went in a whole other direction. I was sent a chocolate bar and a clever poster listing the "six degrees of separation" between Kevin Bacon and all the cast members. There was even a note showing the six degrees of separation between Bacon and me. (I've interviewed Ashmore, as well as Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick.)
CTV probably wishes they had more separation between this series and the recent tide of deadly headlines.   On the other hand, excessive violence doesn't seem to have deterred Quentin Tarantino fans from seeing Django Unchained. The Following is really just the latest TV crime drama. half of CBS's schedule is forensic cop shows.  FX upped the ante last year with American Horror Story, and cable TV fare like Dexter has been splattering blood for years.
So if you like intense, edgy drama, if you're a Breaking Bad fan, for example, you'll find Bacon compelling in The Following, Me, I'm a-scared of this stuff and will seek to stay as separated from it as possible.
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