Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The way of the knife: Fox's The Following

Any regular follower of this blog knows I'm a bit of a binge TV watcher. My Netflix subscription is mostly used by my daughter in watching Spiderman, My Little Pony or Barbie. She's on a Mulan kick right now.
I don't have time for Netflix and the movies are really out of date. BUT -- when I'm off recovering from foot surgery (like last spring) -- I become a bit of a Netflix junkie with its TV offerings. (I am still way behind on AMC's Breaking Bad and Showtime's Dexter because I am watching those with the hubbie, but alas, I only have so much time.)
I finally got caught up on PBS's Sherlock Holmes and now record the current season. While season one and two were great, season three has a lot of fast-forward moments. Dr. John Watson's wedding was just so boring I skipped through most of the episode. Or it was interesting and the fact that I am recovering from foot surgery, the flu and some bizarre week of terrible headaches could have tainted my viewing attitude.
Anyway on to the main topic The Following. I am a Kevin Bacon fan in that I think he does well in choosing good roles to play. If you look through his acting history, he has good taste. Also to his credit he's married to Kyra Sedgwick, the star of TNT's The Closer, a kick ass show that never failed to entertain.

So, I did not watch The Following until last week. I binged on season one and two over the past five days. I had flashbacks to The Vampire Diaries, but I'll explain in a minute.
The show is pretty dark, loves knives and is kind of twisty-turnie in its plot. I think season one could have been abbreviated to eight or nine episodes, down from 15, because it got really repetitive and a bit formulaic. The problem with binge watching is you see everything up close and don't have the advantage of short term memory loss between episodes.
So to sum up season one, in practically every episode a good guy was kidnapped and a bad guy got killed. The bad guys multiplied faster than rabbits so they never ran out of evils, but the number of scenarios where Ryan or Claire or Joey were facing either rescue or peril was ludicrous. It really got kind of silly after a while a nd to a point where I just knew no one significant was going to die -- of course until the end.

Also in almost every episode, especially near the end of season one, there was a dark scene where Ryan or Mike or Debra, or all three in one case, are in a deserted house/abandoned armory/empty hotel under construction -- you fill in your location -- searching for bad guys by themselves, off book, and get caught/knocked out/taken hostage/beat up etc. I started to see flashbacks to season one while watching season two because they are using the same type of setup. It's dark. The protagonist is alone. They are knocked out by the bad guy and the bad guy/girl gets away. These guys really need new foils.
That takes us to the Vampire Diaries. I binge watched about five seasons of that show about 18 months ago and it was the same kind of scenario. Actually, I'm going to venture to say the Vampire Diaries was more thrilling in the first three seasons because the show wasn't afraid to actually kill cast members. See my old review on that mark. At the same time the central characters constantly faced danger/near death weekly that it became a bit absurd.

Which brings us to Kevin Williamson, who is the creator and writer of both shows. I only seem to think of Dawon's Creek when his name comes up, which is strange because I recently checked out his writing history and about 90 per cent of the work he's done is horror/thrillers not teenage dramas. He's of Scream fame, which has to be the movie that gave horror a resurgence when it opened with its over the top horror/gore. I think Williamson was making fun of the genre and I think he does that with The Following and did that with the Vampire Diaries, I don't think he writes for the show any more.

OK. Enough Williamson blather. I see a lot of similarities in these two series. Vampires suck blood in a gory fashion, Joe's followers love to carve up victims with knives. These two series are full of blood-loving characters and since no one runs out of blood, there is always a supply for the gore-loving.
So, I just finished the third episode in season two of the The Following and I really liked it, for two main reasons, because there was some humor and sarcasm, ie: best line: utopian slut palace - and the story finally started moving forward with this year's psychos, who seem sicker and more twisted.
It was clear last season that while most of the characters loved killing, no one seemed to do it for sport or just for the fun of it. The deaths all had a thrill -- or a personal self satisfaction. This season the French loonies are bringing some spontaneity and unpredictability to the show that is much needed.
So far the one important piece missing from this season is emotion. I liked listening to the killers when they visited Joe in prison talk about their adoration for him and their past. In particular, I think they did a good job fleshing out Roderick's devotion and in the end Joe's betrayal of him. I actually felt sorry for Roderick, who was one sick puppy. Same goes for Charlie. I liked that guy and saw it strange/sick and twisted that he let Joe kill him because he'd failed his mission.
Also at the beginning at least, the Emma/Jacob love story seemed quite real and that scene with Emma's mother was very powerful. I just don't see any hints of that kind of attachment in season two, but it's only been three episodes, perhaps it's coming.

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