'The Following' review: Kevin Bacon stars in bleak, sordid crime drama

Kevin Bacon, front right, plays former FBI agent

Kevin Bacon, front right, plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is called out of retirement to track down James Purefoy, as Joe Carroll, in the new psychological thriller “The Following,” premiering at 8 p.m. Jan. 21, 2013 on FOX. (Credit: AP)

THE SHOW "The Following"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 9 on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT On death row for the murder of 14 female students, serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, "Rome") escapes from prison because he has one last murder to commit. But no garden variety serial killer, charismatic Carroll was formerly a college professor inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. His grisly murders were in a sense designed to enrich or at least reflect Poe's macabre symbolism.


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The FBI, of course, has no clue how to catch this guy, and reaches out to the former agent who caught him years earlier -- Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon). Ryan's got baggage -- drinks hard; had an affair with Joe's wife, Claire (Natalie Zea). But he also understands Carroll's game: from prison, Carroll had assembled a cult of followers -- other serial killers who are dispatching victims for him.

MY SAY Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary... aah, no, actually it was a bleak December day when the review copy of "The Following" arrived from Fox. "Never more," I said to myself, "will I watch a TV show or movie about serial killers -- even if "The Vampire Diaries' " Kevin Williamson produces it and Kevin Bacon stars. "Never more ..."

And then I realized, what the heck, it's my job. I have to. And with that, consider this critical rebuke strictly personal: "The Following" is a bummer of significant proportions. Not that it's bad -- it's not -- but it's bleak, sordid, blood-spattered and creepy (though not necessarily always "creepy" in a good way, like "The Walking Dead").

Williamson was scolded by some TV critics at their recent press tour for mounting (however inadvertently) such a violent show post-Newtown. But that missed the point: Who really ever wants to see butchered people, most of them women, with bodies disemboweled and eyes scooped out? The real world is brutal enough -- we don't need TV to shove that harsh reminder down our throats.

BOTTOM LINE That said, could this well-acted, reasonably well-structured series become the hit Fox expects? Quite possibly, yes -- there is a reason, after all, CBS' "Criminal Minds" is such a hit.

GRADE C+

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