TV Review: ‘The Following,’ Season 3

Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Shawn Ashmore, Jessica Stroup, Sam Underwood, Zuleikha Robinson, Gregg Henry, Michael Ealy

Unlike a vast number of characters that have appeared in “The Following,” the show itself just wouldn’t die. On the plus side, this grim Kevin Bacon vehicle returns for season three feeling less gruesome and promiscuous about its body count, although the basic conceit — a stunning number of people who don’t just admire serial killers but blindly follow them — remains intact. Ratings for the show have been so-so, and Fox has launched some promising rookie dramas since its renewal, which, barring an unforeseen surge of interest here, should be reason enough to put Kevin Williamson’s creation out of its misery.

Despite the storytelling cartwheels undertaken to keep it going, “The Following” wasn’t built to last. So the twists became increasingly ridiculous in service to prolonging the perils of Bacon’s FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who could teach Michael Corleone a thing or two about being pulled back into a career he wants to shed.

Some time has passed since the previous season, offering Ryan not just greater tranquility when the story begins, but time to develop a new romance with a beautiful doctor (Zuleikha Robinson), which, given Hardy’s history with women, might qualify her as the bravest person in TV history.

Still, that serenity can’t last — Ryan’s suggestion of catching up with a colleague “when things calm down around here” elicits an unintentional giggle — and there’s soon a new outbreak of not-so-random murders, linked to those still alive and at large after the bloody conclusion of season two.

It gives away little to say the full depth of what’s happening has yet to reveal itself after two episodes, beyond reuniting Ryan, sidekick Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) and Hardy’s niece Max (Jessica Stroup, whose addition last year had the feeling of a network note) hoping to figure out what’s coming, and identifying the tentacles of the conspiracy in order to thwart them. The show also contains what plays like a split-personality homage to “Psycho,” which would be creepier if it weren’t so derivative.

The cast is actually quite good, including some interesting additions in the early going. But there’s a nagging sense that “The Following” would have worked best had Hardy played his cat-and-mouse game with Hannibal Lecter-like mastermind Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) for a single season and been done with it, as opposed to milking the concept — and pushing the violence to mind-numbing levels in season two — this far beyond its natural expiration date.

As noted, Fox’s cupboard was looking pretty bare before “Empire” and “Gotham” launched, which no doubt helps explain the decision to give “The Following” another shot as a sort-of utility player, paired with the latter. But that was then, and this is now.

“The killing is only beginning,” Ryan says dourly, surveying a crime scene in the premiere.

No doubt, but the best thing now would be to provide fans some closure, while bringing “The Following” — and the killing — to an end.

TV Review: 'The Following,' Season 3

(Series; Fox, Mon. March 2, 9 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in New York by Outerbanks Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Crew: Executive producers, Kevin Williamson, Marcos Siega, Brett Mahoney, Alexi Hawley; director, Siega; writers, Hawley, Mahoney. 60 MIN.

Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Purefoy, Shawn Ashmore, Jessica Stroup, Sam Underwood, Zuleikha Robinson, Gregg Henry, Michael Ealy

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