The Following premiered on Monday night with Kevin Bacon in the gritty role of an FBI agent lured out of retirement to hunt an escaped serial killer.
The morning after The Following made it’s debut, I hopped online to see what people were saying and was surprised by some of the critical reaction to the new Fox thriller. Although many outlets loved The Following and the story of tortured FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who’s lured out of retirement to hunt down serial killer Joe Carroll, several critics took issue with the series over its violent nature.
On Tuesday some critics called The Following dull, awful, and empty. Points well noted but certainly a matter of opinion. Others, however, went so far as to say that The Following glorifies serial killers and is irresponsibly too violent for network television. Some questioned whether we need more violence on TV in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook tragedy. Another point well noted but certainly much more complex.
For those who haven’t seen the show, The Following centers on Kevin Bacon in the role of former FBI agent Ryan Hardy who’s called out of retirement to track down escaped death row serial killer Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, who’s obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. The investigation leads Hardy to Carroll’s ex-wife, her son, and a cult of Manson type followers who will do anything for their leader, even kill or be killed.
To put it mildly, The Following is violent. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but graphic. Joe Carroll, a former literature professor turned killer, takes pleasure in removing the eyes of his victims since, in his mind, the gift of sight represents life. The big difference between The Following and other crime dramas on mainstream TV is that we see some of the killer’s graphic handiwork first hand.
But here’s the deal: it’s not real. The Following is fiction, a TV series intended to entertain and engage in the same way cable shows have graphically taken the gloves off on violence and dark subject matter.
Since some seemingly violent cable shows have clobbered their mainstream network counterparts in recent years, a show like The Following was inevitable. Given the popularity of such past and present cable hits as The Sopranos, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad, it wasn’t a question of if we’d see a show like The Following, it was a matter of when the networks would catch up.
Let me be perfectly clear about this, I don’t advocate violence whatsoever in any way shape or form. After watching The Following on Monday, some of the critical questions raised about the violence have simply led me to even more questions about what’s “acceptable violence” on TV and what’s not.
1. Where were all of the critics of violence during the runs of The Sopranos, Oz, Deadwood, and The Shield?
2. Why have some people given a pass to the dark subject matter within shows like Dexter, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, and Boardwalk Empire but take issue with The Following?
3. Is the violence in The Following really any worse than what we’ve seen in Criminal Minds?
4. Why are people so rabidly infatuated with the murder/killer stories of C.S.I. and Law & Order: SVU, two of the most popular shows on network TV?
5. Why do some people accept real violence in news broadcasts but not on mainstream television?
6. Cable or not, why is the violence in Spartacus and Game of Thrones so acceptable?
7. Are reality shows a better alternative for people?
8. Would removing a show like The Following from network TV actually prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook?
Like I said, I don’t condone violence whatsoever. That’s not how I lead my life. But what’s the alternative to edgy, unsettling dramas that may be uncomfortable to watch but force dialogue about serious issues? Do you run from the darker sides of reality or confront it and raise questions? The mainstream networks are already saturated with fake reality.
I certainly don’t have the answers. How do you feel?