Few things speak more glaringly to the void “The X Factor’s” cancellation will leave in Fox’s schedule than the network’s decision to renew “The Following,” a drama that long ago fell victim to lazy writing and its own pervasive nihilism.
Further muddying its own narrative this season with an unnecessary foray into religion, the finale began in a church, where (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) the death toll continued to mount. Then FBI Agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) and serial killer-cult leader Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) found themselves thrown together trying to save the woman they both love (Natalie Zea) from crazy twin brothers, in what might as well have been subtitled “Lethal Weapon: Get Me the Hell Out of Here Already.”
With Joe having already cheated death once at the end of the first season, the producers could have done everyone a favor — and perhaps achieved a small measure of redemption — by at least bringing closure to that thread. Instead, they relied on yet another loose end — “The Following” exists in a world where nobody appears to know how to secure a crime scene — and a cryptic cliffhanger that offered more of a whimper than a bang.
It’s all a terrible shame, since the pairing of Bacon and Purefoy was initially filled with promise, only to stumble into one ridiculous dead end after another, escaping those situations without any ingenuity beyond having some new character show up and start randomly killing people.
This season, the producers did initiate some minor tweaks, including the decision to give a regular role to Ryan’s grown niece (Jessica Stroup), who happens to be an NYPD cop. The show also upped its serial killer quotient to three, including Connie Nielsen’s Joe Carroll-worshipping wannabe and an aspiring religious cult (complete with “Eyes Wide Shut” masks) that Carroll quickly bent to his will.
While one can appreciate a broadcaster’s attempt to do an edgier, more cable-like drama, “The Following” has the look and cruelty with none of the smarts. Moreover, its condescending attitude toward religion and Fox’s generous use of the TV-14 rating (indicating the show is appropriate for those 14 and up, as opposed to the more restrictive TV-MA) give credence to complaints from groups like the Parents Television Council whose gripes usually fall on deaf ears. (Not that kids are watching the show — they’re not — but why not be honest that the content isn’t appropriate for them?)
As noted, Fox can’t really expect the series to grow at this point, so it has to rely on the audience that’s been hanging on this long. Maybe most of them will come back, but after two seasons of waiting to see if “The Following” experiment actually led anywhere, it will have to get by with one less follower.