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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
THE FOLLOWING (FOX)
(written by Kevin Williamson; directed by Marcos Siega; TRT: 45:44)
The network's description: "THE FBI estimates there are currently over 300 active serial killers in the United States. What would happen if these killers had a way of communicating and connecting with each other? What if they were able to work together and form alliances across the country? What if one brilliant psychotic serial killer was able to bring them all together and activate a following? Welcome to THE FOLLOWING, the terrifying new thriller from creator/executive producer Kevin Williamson ("The Vampire Diaries," "Dawson's Creek," the "Scream" franchise). When notorious serial killer JOE CARROLL (James Purefoy, "Rome") escapes from death row and embarks on a new killing spree, the FBI calls former agent RYAN HARDY (Emmy-nominated actor Kevin Bacon, "X-Men: First Class") to consult on the case. Having since withdrawn from the public eye, Hardy was responsible for Carroll's capture nine years ago, after Carroll murdered 14 female students on the Virginia college campus where he taught literature. Hardy is a walking textbook of all-things Carroll. He knows him better than anyone; he is perhaps Carroll's only psychological and intellectual match. But the Ryan Hardy who broke the Carroll case years ago isn't the same man today. Wounded both physically and mentally by his previous pursuit of this serial killer, it's been a long time since Hardy has been in the field. This investigation is his redemption, his call to action.
In contrast to nine years ago, Hardy isn't calling the shots on this case. He works closely with an FBI team, which includes all-business and tough-as-nails JENNIFER MASON (Jeananne Goossen, "The Vow," ALCATRAZ) and young, razor-sharp MIKE WESTON (Shawn Ashmore, "X-Men"). The team considers Hardy to be more of a liability than an asset. But Hardy proves his worth when he uncovers that Carroll was covertly communicating with a network of killers in the outside world. It quickly becomes obvious that he has more planned than just a prison escape, and there's no telling how many additional killers are out there. The FBI's investigation leads Hardy to CLAIRE MATTHEWS (Natalie Zea, "Justified"), Carroll's ex-wife and mother of the criminal's 10-year-old son, JOEY (newcomer Kyle Catlett). Close during Hardy's initial investigation, Hardy turns to Claire for insight into Carroll's next move. The tension rises when Carroll's accomplices kidnap his intended last victim from nine years ago. Hardy becomes ever more determined to end Carroll's game when he realizes that this psychopath intends to finish what he started. The thriller will follow Hardy and the FBI as they are challenged with the ever-growing web of murder around them, masterminded by the devious Carroll, who dreams of writing a novel with Hardy as his protagonist. The reinvigorated Hardy will get a second chance to capture Carroll, as he's faced with not one but a cult of serial killers."
What did they leave out? Jeananne Goossen's role of Jennifer Mason is reportedly being recast. Plus, the pilot will make its world premiere tonight at Comic-Con International: San Diego.
The plot in a nutshell: After the improbable escape of infamous serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) from Virginia Central Penitentiary, the FBI has only one place to turn: Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the man who put him behind bars nine year ago. Now retired and on disability as the result of said events (not to mention a functioning alcoholic), Hardy reluctantly agrees to consult with Mason (Jeananne Goossen), Reilly (Billy Brown) and Weston (Shawn Ashmore), the agents spearheading the search. Carroll's most likely targets: Sarah Fuller (Maggie Grace), a doctor who improbably managed to survive his last attack; and Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea), his ex-wife and mother of their son (Kyle Catlett).
Hardy however turns his attention to how Carroll escaped: he was helped by a guard (Steve Monroe), one whom Carroll was teaching to become a serial killer himself. And it only gets worse from there: Sarah is snatched from police custody, revealing that Carroll has not just one but an entire cult of would be serial killers at his beck and call. Along the way flashbacks fill in the gaps of Carroll and Hardy's histories: from how Carroll was once a spirited college professor whose obsession with Edgar Allan Poe led him to kill 14 co-eds in the name of his "art," to how Hardy's own quest to stop Carroll nearly cost him his life. Ultimately, nothing we learn is exactly what it seems.
What works: There are moments in the pilot that are quite literally jaw dropping with a matter-of-fact brutality I can't quite recall ever seeing on television, broadcast or cable. Purefoy's Carroll is a monster beyond words and the show doesn't pull any punches in portraying him as such. Kudos to Williamson for showing us the cliff and then promptly driving over it. It all however ultimately falls on the shoulders of Kevin Bacon, who's well deserving of the hype surrounding the series. His Ryan Hardy is a man defeated, the weight of his failures nearly crushing his pacemaker-assisted heart.
Purefoy's Carroll conversely has the charm and zeal to be a true believer in his own insanity (his mantra: nothing is more beautiful than the death of a beautiful woman), one that horrifyingly inspires others to follow suit. The end result is a unique relationship that goes beyond the standard set of FBI versus serial killer tropes. The only way for Hardy to catch Carroll is to tap back into the kind of obsession that said pursuit requires and he may not have it in him. If there ever was a show that makes you want to crawl into bed, pull over the covers and pray for the night to be over, this is it. Its shock and awe aside, "The Following" is an expertly constructed thriller, achieving that all important goal of a pilot: making you want to see the second episode as soon as humanly possible.
What doesn't: Somewhere around the 13 minute mark you're either going to be all in on this show or be quite happy with not seeing something like that again.
The bottom line: I'm all in.