Last night Fox debuted its big new midseason show The Following, a bloody serial killer mystery thriller starring Kevin Bacon and created by none other than Dawson's Creek fabulist Kevin Williamson. OK, to be fair, Williamson has of course dealt in horror before, writing films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. (And creating The Vampire Diaries which, in varying ways, should count as horror.) Though with this new show he isn't going for arch parody or self-aware winking. No, his aims are toward the moody and the literary, drawing from the well of Se7en in an attempt to create something thoughtful and baroquely unsettling. The frequent gore and dreary nihilism is a philosophical comment on the ills of modern society; isn't it twisted how twisted we all are? This is a boring, dumb question that the hacks of film and television have been asking us since David Fincher's operatically grim film first rattled us nearly two decades ago. And boy do I wish they would stop.
The setup of The Following is as uninventive, while trying to be intelligent, as any of its ignoble peers in this creaky form, from The Bone Collector to season six of Dexter. Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who drinks too much and frowns a lot and who is called back into service when his big get, the Hannibal Lecter to his Will Graham, escapes prison in bloody fashion. This super serial killer is Joe Carroll, a former professor turned Poe-obsessed murderer played by James Purefoy with the same showy intensity of many other fine actors forced to hork out hackneyed pseudo-philosophy in these kinds of roles. The only surprising thing about this supposedly wicked and fascinating character is that his name isn't Sebastian Kane or Damien Cole or some other evil-but-elegant-sounding name often foisted upon us by these stupid things. I'll give Williamson points for at least keeping things simple in the name department.