On the Bubble: The Following

Posted on February 6, 2013



Kevin Bacon chasing the acolytes of an imprisoned serial killer. Why wouldn’t I watch?

Seriously though: I’ve been a fan of silly Kevin Bacon (Footloose, Tremors) and serious Kevin Bacon (Stir of Echoes, Mystic River). A chance to watch him every week was too good to pass up.

And let’s be honest here: Fox Television is producing some daring 1-hour dramas. They don’t all work, but they are trying. I wanted to see how this one would do.

We Watched It

Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is a literature professor obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe. After writing a novel based on an unfinished Poe manuscript (The Lighthouse), Carroll receives terrible reviews and worse sales. He decides that his work lacked verisimilitude, and as part of writing his next book, he kills fourteen women.

FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is the guy who figured out Carroll was the serial killer, and put Carroll away before the first episode even begins.

The first episode begins with Carroll escaping prison. Hardy, now a divorced alcoholic with a pacemaker and a nasty scar where Carroll stabbed him, gets called in as a consultant. He catches Carroll, and in the process the show reveals a lot about his relationship with his ex-wife, and that he is Carroll’s ex-wife’s lover.

It also reveals that Carroll hacked the prison’s computer system and used it to orchestrate a following of killers, all of whom Hardy and his FBI associates must now catch.

On the Bubble

A few reasons for this status include…

First, Carroll is supposed to be a super-genius. It is very difficult to pull off those kinds of characters. It is difficult to write people who are very smart, and very good planners, without them turning into magical oracles that can see the future and take it into account.

Second, early on, Carroll has some of his followers kidnap his son. I hate the child in jeopardy trope. It is a crutch that writers use to have parental characters get emotional. I find it particularly offensive when applied to female characters like Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea). It says that we, as writers, cannot create good emotional drama between two adults. It says that we, as creators, do not trust our actors to be good enough at their craft to bring the audience into their characters’ emotional lives without amping it up about a million notches.

Third, there has to be progress. Three episodes in, we’re seeing the FBI playing catch-up. They are not making progress finding the kidnapped boy. They are not making progress establishing who Carroll’s followers are. We spend tons of time on flashbacks while Kevin Bacon makes the serious face. Move forward, already.

Now, I do not think this show has Gilligan’s Island Syndrome. If the FBI wraps up one cell of Carroll’s followers, there are other cells. If they think they’ve got all the cells, Carroll can break out and activate new ones, or become the show’s primary threat. Or he can find some sneaky super-genius way to get on the Internet. Or he can seduce one of his guards.

In other words, actually making progress in season one does not threaten the show’s continuing existence.


There’s another crutch in this show, and it’s Hardy’s alcoholism. The first episode shows the empty liquor bottles in his trash can – and that he’s a bad boy, because he doesn’t recycle. It also shows him refilling a bottled water with vodka before reporting to duty with the FBI.

The bad part is that the writers then dropped it. I can’t recall seeing him take another drink, except in a flashback in episode three.

I, personally, struggled with alcohol after the First Gulf War. I was drunk more than I was sober for over a year. Quitting was tough. I fell off the wagon several times. I had to do a lot of growing up, and I had to face some demons through counseling.

Hardy deals with his damaged heart in the episodes. We get reminded of it in dialogue and in behavior. The alcoholism is a dropped ball, though, and I hate that.

Don’t give a character a trait that only surfaces when it is convenient to your plot. It’s either part of the character’s life, or it isn’t.


Is it slumming to go from movies to television? It used to be. Do you think that’s still the case, or are you happy to see some star power on the small screen?

Posted in: television