Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some Thoughts on The Following 1x01, "Pilot"

If you're planning to watch The Following but haven't yet, this isn't the review for you. There are spoilers in this post for the first episode, and it doesn't contain a rehash of the show's plot. If you have watched the first episode, please read along and share your thoughts.

Even though the trailers weren't particularly appealing to me, I was excited for The Following. The premise of a serial killer leading a cult intrigued me, the show seemed to generate a fairly positive buzz early on (although that buzz has become more divisive in the past few weeks), and most of all, Kevin Williamson, known for Scream and The Vampire Diaries is the show's creator.

The Following wasn't as original as I was hoping it would be (especially given Scream's fresh take on the horror genre), but I feel like it's still different from a lot of shows on television at the moment. In fact, it had a cinematic feel to it. The show is largely a crime thriller, but it also has a dash of horror movie in its DNA. The scene where Kevin Bacon's Ryan Hardy searches for Sarah in her house and then her neighbors' house genuinely held me in suspense. While I suppose it could veer off into disjointed follower of the week stories, The Following appears as if it's going to stick largely to an cohesive and overarching story of Joe Carroll and his followers. If so, the shortish episode order (I believe the promo said fourteen or fifteen episodes) could lead to an solid, connected story told in weekly increments.

I was a little surprised that Sarah met her end so soon into the show. The revelation of Sarah's neighbors and Joey's nanny as followers of Joe also took me by surprise. I probably should have caught on that the nanny was a follower, but the idea of the neighbors as followers was a pretty solid twist. There's a limited number of times the "so-and-so is secretly a follower" twist can be played, so I'm hoping they'll dial back on it for a while in future episodes. Still, I'm betting at least one major player will be revealed as a follower in the future.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the other twists and turns of the pilot were pretty predictable. Sarah's screams were obviously prerecorded. It was clear far before the reveal that Claire and Ryan had a relationship in the past. Even some of the surprises, like Sarah's death, were made obvious a couple beats too early, lessening the suspense. To be fair, part of the episode's predictability might stem from my prior viewing of the trailer, but it still didn't stray too far from the cliches.

The Following also seemed to take itself slightly too seriously for my taste. The subject matter didn't lend itself to a lot of jokes (and slightly too serious is much better than too buffoonish), but a little bit of dark humor would have gone a long way. The show also seemed to think it was a smarter show than it actually was. It wasn't that The Following was dumb, but it wasn't brilliant or original enough to justify quite such a serious tone.

This serious tone was least compatible with the Poe angle of Joe's murders. Gouged eyes are nothing to laugh about, but the Edgar Allen Poe theme is a slightly campy concept that seemed off when taken so seriously. I'm not opposed to the idea of Poe-based murders in the show if used as a loose theme or even done in a more fun manner, but the idea was applied in too heavy-handed a manner. The thick application of Poe's stories wasn't done particularly creatively either, and I felt like a handful of Poe ideas were repeated over and over (repetitive eye gouging, quite a few references to unfinished business and Poe's unfinished story, Poe quotes recited/written on a wall/written on a body/etc.). I'm no Poe scholar, but it felt like the writer read a Poe story in high school, thought it was cool, and looked on Wikipedia for a couple of facts to tie in. Given that Joe was an English teacher, a wider variety of literary allusions might have worked better and allowed for more creativity. I'm just hoping that Joe sticks to his word about moving onto a murder plot with wider appeal.

The response to The Following's pilot seems to have been fairly divisive, but I actually fall somewhere in the middle between love and hate. I liked it more than my multiple critiques probably suggest and think it could become a really interesting show, but it definitely had its flaws. Given that this was only The Following's first episode and that it had a lot of story to cover, I'm definitely willing to tune in for at least another week and see where the story goes.

Some random thoughts on The Following:
  • I spent several minutes during the episode pondering Claire Matthews's (Natalie Zea) face. At first I thought she looked like Ellen Pompeo. In another scene, I noted a striking resemblance to Rebecca Gayheart. For a brief moment, I even caught a very mild resemblance to Blake Lively. Yet in some scenes, I thought she looked like none of them at all.
  • When the puppy torture chamber made an appearance, I (as did many others, I imagine) made a comment along the lines of "I can handle dead bodies, but I can't take dead dogs" (in reference to on-screen violence, of course). It cracked me up when Shawn Ashmore's Mike made almost exactly the same comment right afterwards. 
  • In retrospect, I should have seen Maggie Grace's death coming from the start. It was a very Scream-esque move to kill off the actress with a decent level of name recognition early on.
  • With dead puppies and eye stabbings, The Following is pretty heavy on the gore for a network show. However, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting from the responses I'd read about the show's violence. It seemed gratuitous at times, but I managed to make it through the episode just fine.
  • It was somewhat of a cliche song choice, but I really liked the use of "Sweet Dreams" at the beginning and the end of the episode.
  • Whether or not it turns out to be true, there's definitely some suspicion being raised that Joey is really Ryan's son, right? Claire's mention of her relationship with Ryan "eight years ago" seemed too blatant to be a throwaway line.
  • I can never seem to keep Shawn and Aaron Ashmore's roles straight in my mind. During the episode, I wondered if Mike was played by the X-Men/Animorph Ashmore or the Veronica Mars Ashmore. It turns out that Shawn is the X-Men/Animorph one.

Did you catch the premiere of The Following? What did you think of it? Was the violence worse than you expected or not as bad? Do you plan to keep watching?

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