Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kevin Williamson & Marcos Siega's dark TV series THE FOLLOWING is a fast, smart, unsettling view

Home-grown terrorism is among the topics most Americans would rather forget. Easier, of course, to blame "terrorism" on outsiders, foreigners, those others, please! Ignore the mass shootings, one after another, that seem to crop up every month or two. One of the smart moves of the Warner Brothers-produced, 15-part television series, THE FOLLOWING, comes via its handing us a case of what can only be seen, finally, as home-grown terrorism. But rather than any isolated incident, this is that case of a serial killer who lethally expands his domain and disciples -- hence the series' title -- until we can no longer be certain how far his tentacles can or will reach.

TrustMovies is now up to episode seven of this extraordinarily violent and often shocking series, and those tentacles are reaching farther than he would have imagined during the opening episode or two. Series' creator and oft-times writer Kevin Williamson (shown at right) is the guy most responsible for the Scream franchise, as well as Dawson's Creek and some other successful stuff, and he certainly seems to have grown up in daring to tackle a project this large and convoluted. He also seems quite up to it. One of the clever and most unsettling things he does is keep us forever off-balance as to who among the enormous cast is going to survive -- not to mention for how long. One thing is clear from the initial episode: What looks to be our heroine, played by the always lovely and here hugely vulnerable actress Maggie Grace, is something else entirely.

Williamson's director of choice (who did eight of the initial season's episodes) is the talented Marcos Siega (at left, who also directed Chaos Theory and Pretty Persuasion) and who brings his great ability with actors to the fore. Siega is an unusually humane director, so it's no surprise that here, even with a cast of characters, almost half of which is made up of  "villains," he still allows each of them their due. They have so many moments when they seem, well, just like us in their neediness and confusion. Siega, like Williamson, also understands the use of pacing and surprise, and this is one of the most fast-moving cable TV series I've so far seen. (The three Siega-directed episodes of the first six are definitely the superior models.)

Will The Following hold up throughout? I've been told that it does, and in any case, I am now hooked. Its premise is a terrific one and, so far, what it does with this is equally good. The cast is well-chosen and up-to-snuff in every way, with Kevin Bacon (below) and James Purefoy (above) excelling, respectively, as protagonist and antagonist.

Every last supporting performance is given the necessary specifics, weight and empathy required, with three actors particular stand-outs: Valorie Curry (below, left) and Nico Tortorella (below, right) and Adan Canto (further below).

These three "followers" get their own intertwined stories that smack up against the main thread with surprising strength and gusto. This is one very unusual, violent and unsettling piece of television.

The Following is available now -- commercial-free and highly binge-worthy -- via Netflix streaming. I'm told that a second season is already in the works....

Addendum: Well, we finished the first season, and damn it -- The Following did not, finally, hold up all that well. Purefoy's character grows tiresome (if he appears in season 2, we'll know there is something hugely wrong). His wife is right: This character is pretty much a talent-free fraud. Instead of surprise, we begin to guess one small outcome after another, and even the violence, nasty as it is, begins to bore. Too bad, because for maybe 12, even 13 of the 15 episodes, the creative crew got it right.

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