I'm a sucker for serialized drama – yes, even when it's illogical and throws common sense out the window, which happens a lot in the first season of 'The Following'. Very much like a horror version of FOX's beloved 24, 'The Following' has a movie actor (in this case, Kevin Bacon) coming to television to portray a federal agent (albeit a retired one here) playing a beat-the-clock game against an arch nemesis. Again, much like that other FOX series, viewers are best served by not thinking too much about what's happening on screen, and just sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Created and executive-produced by Kevin Williamson (whose most noteworthy credit as it applies to this production is being the writer of Scream), 'The Following' tells the story of ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is called back into action when serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) – whom Ryan helped put behind bars – escapes from prison. Ryan, however, has a much deeper connection to Carroll (a former college professor and novelist, who relishes the works of Edgar Allan Poe) than just being his jailer. During his original investigation of Carroll, he became romantically involved with his ex-wife, Claire (Natalie Zea), and during his capture of Carroll, Ryan was gravely wounded by Carroll, leading to both a pacemaker and an alcohol addiction.
One of the smart things that Williamson has created in his storyline is a group of cult-like followers of Joe. These aren't just people obsessed with his writings and work, but people that will actually go out and kill for him (think Charles Manson and his cult of followers). Therefore, regardless of whether Carroll is behind bars or not, there's always the threat of danger to the main characters and those around them. Added to that is the fact that Carroll's followers are unknown, meaning that they could be some random person on the street or someone very close to Hardy.
After a very strong pilot episode which concludes with Carroll back behind bars, the first half of Season 1 focuses on a kidnapping story that involves cult members (the main three being played by Valorie Curry, Nico Tortorella, and Adan Canto) receiving orders from Joe on how to proceed while he is in prison. Either by design or by the realization that a caged Carroll isn't nearly as threatening as one on the loose, at about the mid-way point of the season Carroll escapes and joins his many followers. It all ends with yet another showdown between Ryan and Joe, the result of which I wouldn't dream of revealing here (although I will say that the season ends with a shocking cliffhanger that will be resolved in Season 2).
As network television goes, 'The Following' is pretty graphic in nature. Which is not to say it has anything that will shock a typical horror fan, but it does push the envelope for what viewers are used to seeing (yes, even for a FOX show) in terms of gore. I didn't count the number of stabbings ('The Following's favorite method of killing) in Season 1, but to say the show averages a few every episode would not be an exaggeration. I don't think 'The Following' glamorizes its acts of violence, but I wouldn't argue with those who say it does get to be a bit gratuitous (and less shocking) with each new episode.
While I did enjoy the overall storyline of Season 1, things do not progress without a significant number of logical head-scratchers and a complete lack of common sense from many of the show's characters. Without breaking down each and every instance, the whole first storyline arc involving the kidnapping could not have occurred if those responsible for Carroll in prison would have just put him in solitary confinement and refused to let him have contact with anyone. Additionally, there's a great number of instances where stupid decisions by characters either get them killed, injured, or put them in spots that they should have been able to avoid.
Had 'The Following' been cast with more familiar television actors, I doubt this series would have lived to see a renewal, let alone made it through Season 1 without being cancelled. However, the strength (and likeability) of both Bacon and Purefoy helps elevate the rather standard storytelling. While it's still very much a 'check your mind at the door' proceeding, there's enough entertainment value in 'The Following' to make it worth a look.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Following' slashes its way onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet combo pack that houses seven discs (three 50-GB dual-layer Blu-rays and four DVDs) in an oversized keepcase, with hubs to hold all but the fourth DVD, which is placed on the inside right of the case. An insert with the code for the UltraViolet version is included, along with a tri-fold that lists all the contents of each disc, along with a brief synopsis of each episode. The keepcase slides inside a cardboard sleeve, with a front and back cover that matches that of the keepcase slick (with the exception of a UltraViolet banner on the back cover that doesn't appear on the slick).
Neither the Blu-rays nor the DVDs are front-loaded with any trailers or advertisements, just the WB logo before going to the main menu, which is another standard-looking Warners menu with a still image (the same as on the box cover) and selections along the bottom of the screen (no, Warner Bros. is never going to win accolades for menu design). One of my biggest peeves about the menu on each Blu-ray is that it lists all the episodes and all the bonus features on the set, rather than just those on the disc you happen to be viewing. The DVDs, on the other hand, only list what is available on that specific disc. The DVDs are also available in their own stand-alone release, minus the Blu-rays and UltraViolet code. There is, however, no stand-alone Blu-ray release as of this writing.
'The Following' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras in and around the New York City area. One of the things viewers will notice immediately is how the show seems to use as little artificial light as possible (meaning production lighting) and instead uses light from windows or provided by flashlights, lamps, etc., to provide the primary light for the scenes. Of course, this leads to a lot of dimly-lit footage – particularly when cast members are chasing a villain through an abandon building or structure (which happens a lot in this series). Therefore, a lot of sequences are intentionally dark and intentionally meant only to provide a clear image for certain areas of the shot. So black levels in these sequences aren't strong, but they aren't meant to be, either.
The color palette for 'The Following' is also intentionally drab, with a lot of browns, grays, and beiges, mixed in with a lot of whites and blacks (depending on the location). This is particularly true of most scenes shot on sets or indoors, and sometimes leads to a rather flat appearance in high-def. However, when the show shoots exteriors, it has less control of the overall color scheme and lighting, and that's when the video quality really pops with some wonderfully sharp images.
'The Following's cinematography is one that features both hand-held camera work and a ton of close-up shots, where detail of faces is incredibly life-like. Since the show makes use of flashbacks, it's particularly interesting to see the way they make Kevin Bacon's character look more youthful in flashback sequences, only to return to the look of his grizzled, stressed-out face in the present.
Overall, this is an excellent HD transfer of the series, with no noticeable instances of compression, banding, artifacting, or the like. Any darkness or lack of detail in some scenes seems to be the intent of the producers, and in keeping with the overall tone of the series.
Warners has given each episode a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is quite active and immersive for a television series. Dynamic range is excellent, and there's some evident use of low-end frequencies throughout as well as some nice directionality, which amps up some of the series' creepier moments. Everything is well-balanced and the dialogue is never drowned out by either events going on in the scene nor by the musical soundtrack. I detected no noticeable instances of dropouts, sync problems, popping/hissing, or other audio glitches.
In addition to the lossless English track, Warners has also provided Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital for each episode, as well as subtitle options in English SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), French, Dutch, Korean, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Please note that, while all of the features listed below can also be found on the DVDs, which disc they appear on varies depending both on which episodes are contained on the DVD in question, as well as the storage space available on each disc (for example, two of the featurettes on the second Blu-ray have been moved to the first DVD).
Despite the problems I had with the logic of some storylines, as well as the stupidity of some of the primary characters, I will say that I found 'The Following' to be worthwhile – thanks largely to the performances of stars Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. Because of the series' serialized nature, it actually plays better on home video as it benefits from 'binge watching' rather than waiting a week to see each episode. It's far from a great show, but it's an entertaining one – and for that reason it gets a recommendation from me.