The Following Monday, 9 p.m., Fox
It took the dark genius of Edgar Allan Poe and the television savvy of Kevin Williamson to lure Kevin Bacon to star in a series.
“The Following," premiering Monday on Fox, is a scary thriller. Under no circumstances is this for children or anyone distressed by gore. Incredibly well done, the deeply disturbing story haunts viewers long after watching.
From the opening scenes, it’s shocking. Someone kills several corrections officers in a maximum security prison. On the lam, the serial killer is off to finish whatever he left undone.
Only one man understands the killer’s psychotic mind enough to nab him. And that man is ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon), who initially arrested him.
Bacon hasn’t done episodic TV since his days in “Guiding Light" 30 years ago.
“Three or four years ago I reluctantly said I wanted to do a series," he says at a cocktail party in a SoHo hotel. “When I started out, that was where you went to die."
He recalls reading scripts and thought this dark series was for cable.
“He’s not the sort of character you read it and know who he is automatically," Bacon says.
The 15-episode series pits good against evil, but Hardy is not entirely good. Like any great character, he is flawed. He has a drinking problem — when you’re pouring vodka into a water bottle, you definitely have a problem. And when he was on the job, he slept with the serial killer’s wife, Claire (Natalie Zea, “Justified"). However, they weren’t lovers until the killer was imprisoned. Still, the FBI frowns on such behavior.
This killer happens to be a brilliant and dashing former professor, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, “Rome"), who specialized in Poe.
“It could be real," Purefoy says, looking far less threatening with a glass of wine in his hand. “It’s a difficult idea to get one’s head around. If you play it real, it becomes so terrifying. There is a very real feel to the whole thing."
Though Carroll is evil incarnate, he is so intelligent and charismatic, it’s easy to see how he holds sway over people. His specialty, besides the works of Poe, is seducing people, making him even more dangerous than your average serial killer.
He’s so masterful at this he developed a cult. This means that not only does he kill — slicing up his victims with gruesome nods to Poe — but his disciples also slaughter innocents.
Again, there are scenes in the first four episodes that will make some recoil.
It does seem curious how inept most police officers are in this and how only the one FBI agent who had to be called back truly understands Carroll’s manipulative genius. He is so deadly that if there were a drinking game of doing a shot per victim, players would be plastered by the end of the pilot.
“He has a certain eloquence," Purefoy concedes of his character, and that gains him everyone’s trust.
It’s debatable as to whether FBI specialist Debra Parker (Annie Parisse, “Law & Order") falls under Carroll’s spell.
“I am an academic brought in to consult and investigate Joe Carroll," Parisse says. “I am in charge of Kevin Bacon. I am trying to keep that man in line.
“I am not easily scared because of knowing the genre," says Parisse, an avowed horror fan. “I was so scared. What they do in the pilot is so shocking."
This series was long percolating in creator Williamson’s brain.
“I have been working on this baby for years," Williamson (“Dawson’s Creek") says. “This started as a TV story a hundred years ago. I came up with this idea when researching ‘Scream.’ I just sort of sat on it. I wrote it as a TV show, then a feature film during the writers strike, and then I sat on it again. And after ‘Vampire Diaries’ was going into its third year, I had a deal with Warner Bros., and this is what I wanted to do."
Williamson’s mom fostered his lifelong passion for Poe.
“She took me to the Richmond, Va., museum, and you had to follow ‘The Raven’ on red walls, and I started reading it and reading it," he says. “My mom gave me the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. More than anything it is about what he stood for and what he believed in."
“Joe Carroll says it in the pilot," Williamson continues. “Poe said nothing is more beautiful than the bereavement of a beautiful woman. This man was surrounded by death in his real life, and it carried over into his fiction."
And that is inherently entwined into the series. Arresting Carroll can’t stop the bloody killings, not when he has deranged disciples.
Still, Williamson says, this isn’t a horror movie. “It is a drama with a lot of scary stuff," he says. “It is a love story; it is a story about two men and the woman between them. It is a big story."