Monday, January 21, 2013

The Following "Pilot" Review

Kevin Williamson inspired me to write my first screenplay at age 11. I saw Scream 2 for the first time and felt compelled to write my own horror-slasher script on a pad of paper. The script is terrible, as one expects from an 11 year old. My father bought me an unofficial Kevin Williamson biography the same year. It included a list of what he worked on, from Scream to Killing Mrs. Tingle to treatments and re-writes, and even his failed ABC drama Wasteland. As good as Scream and Scream 2 are, Williamson hasn't had unparalleled success in the industry. He thrived in the late '90s, but the early 00s were rough for him. Glory Days failed, Hidden Palms failed, Cursed failed, Scream 3 failed and he got replaced by Ehren Kruger during the scripting phase. The Vampire Diaries seemed like a failure after three terrible episodes and a fourth bad episode. But The Vampire Diaries sort of got good in episode five and, soon, was great. Kevin Williamson had Hollywood on his side again.

The Vampire Diaries didn't keep him from writing an underwhelming Scream 4 script that suffered from behind-the-scenes tinkering until he left production before its completion. Rumors of he and the Weinsteins clashing were heavy. So, no, any story Williamson thinks of isn't gold or guaranteed for success. The Following's "Pilot" is not a great example of Williamson's skill as a storyteller. The "Pilot" is rote and heavy-handed. Kevin Bacon's involvement already elevates the show because TV's still thought of a lesser medium compared to film. Any time a film actor takes a role on a weekly episodic TV show means that show is going to be great because actor X is involved.

Kevin Bacon portrays Ryan Hardy well. He embodies the regretful man in search of redemption. Hardy's the prototype modern day network TV hero. The man's in no way a hero just because he's a cop. Cops ceased being saintly figures long ago, in the late 80s to be exact. Ryan couldn't crack the serial killer case that dominates the "Pilot" for 18 months. Fourteen girls lost their lives. Ryan saved one woman, Sarah. His heart went out. He wrote a book. The killer sat in jail, removed from society; however, weekly visits to the library in preparation for an appeal were actually sessions to recruit followers, new serial killers, to kill in ways Edgar Allen Poe wrote about. The Following opens with the killer escaping from prison to finish his incomplete work: killing Sarah.

James Purefoy portrays the serial killer Joe Carroll. Carroll taught a college course on the Romantics--Poe, Thoreau, Emerson, etc. The Edgar Allen Poe is heavy-handed, unnecessarily so. Rick wrote a book about Joe Carroll. The book emphasized the killer's relationship to the author. Whoever dies in the episode is killed in a way Poe described in one of his books. Rick runs his hands through his hair as if he's channeling late 90s James Van Der Beek in Dawson's Creek and remembers that Poe's The Raven symbolizes the finality of death; therefore, he's going to make Sarah's death final. All of the deaths are illuminated by a Poe story or a Poe line. Carroll's actions are directly related to books, which taps into the public's interest in the relationship of violence with media, whether it's movies or video games or TV or books. The Following posits a direct relationship between Poe and Joe Carroll.

Williamson's also not a stranger to meta-fictional elements. Clearly, the show isn't about Maggie Grace's Sarah. The show is about Rick's relationship with Joe. Joe surrenders after he murders Sarah and completes his work. During an interrogation, Joe tells Ryan why he killed her. Ryan needed her death to complete his redemptive arc. Sarah was the inciting incident Rick's hero side needed to have the courage to be a hero. Rick's disturbed by his words because they're true. Bacon's body language suggests he's a man who hates himself for that truth. The men have a complicated history. Ryan slept with Carrie, Joe's wife. Ryan put Joe behind bars. I feel the show will explore the similarities of the two men. Both are driven by obsession. Joe's obsession with Poe, with being followed, with death; Ryan's obsession with stopping Joe. How far will he go to stop the many copycats Joe taught?

The existence of a Joe Carroll cult allows the show to tell a long arcing story. There will always be a killer for Kevin Bacon to stop each week. The show got attention at press tour for its violence. It's the first significantly violent show to air since the Newtown shootings. Kevin Williamson couldn't answer questions about his show's role in tragedy. Critics argued The Following is a potentially more offensive show than a movie such as Django Unchained because it'll air 15 episodes. Honestly, the argument is unfair to Kevin Williamson. Another complaint is that Williamson's show isn't thoughtful about violence like he was in the Scream trilogy, and, later, Scream 4. The Following is violent, intense, but it's less violent and intense than Django Unchained or any other violent film in the theaters. The argument is worth having in the country, but a series such as The Following isn't the reason why mass shootings happen in this country. Suggesting it is is lazy.

I will try to watch the entire season. I won't write about the season. I've learned to forget about the pilots by Kevin Williamson. Episode 5 is the episode to watch out for. Williamson usually hits his stride by the fifth episode. Also, Williamson's ridiculously talented in finding great writers. He assembled an all-star staff for the seasons one and two of Dawson's Creek. The Vampire Diaries, too, have had great writers pass through. The show also established great writers. So, yeah, this show has potential.

Other Thoughts:

-I hoped for masterful scare sequences. I complimented Williamson’s, in my Scream 4 review, mastery at creating a good, honest scare. He distracts you enough to get you. The Following doesn’t have those scenes.

-Joe Carroll kidnapped his own son. Trusted people in the episode were revealed as loyal followers of Carroll. The kidnapped son story’s going to be a season-long arc, I assume.

-Mayor Lockwood shows up as a lawyer early in the episode.

-Kevin Williamson wrote it. Marcos Siega directed it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree, this is a great show, but like you said, Williamson really hits his stride a few episodes in, so I’m really looking forward to seeing where this show is going. A coworker of mine at DISH was comparing it to Red Dragon, but I quickly set him straight to the fact that besides the presence of a serial killer, there are no real similarities. I mean, they both mess with their victims eyes, but in Red Dragon the killer inserted pieces of mirror into them, not removed them, as in The Following, so it’s really not very apt a comparison. Unfortunately I almost missed the show completely. I forgot the premiere was last night so neglected to set my DVR, but since it was on one of the big four networks during primetime, my DISH Hopper recorded it anyway, with primetime Anytime, and I was able to watch it this morning before work.

About The Foot

My photo
Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.