Here’s the best thing about the second season premiere of “The Following”: Kevin Bacon finally looks like he’s having a little fun.
Sam Underwood as murderous twins is pretty good, but nothing compared with Bacon finally being allowed to act in the show he's actually in, as opposed to the show he signed up for.
Bacon’s migration to broadcast television last year was Big News. Though the Berlin Wall between film and TV came down years ago, the more traveled path for a star of his caliber still winds through cable-land.
But “The Following” on Fox came with an audacious pedigree; it was created by Kevin Williamson, who all but invented the horror-satire genre with the “Scream” franchise, although this is not what "The Following" seemed to be. Instead it ran along familiar if cleverly modified lines: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a Ted Bundy-like serial killer whom FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Bacon) put behind bars, has used the Internet to gather a cult of sociopaths to do his bidding. Which, in the beginning anyway, had something to do with Carroll’s devotion to Poe and the notion of pain being art. Like so many big-arc crime dramas, "The Following" pit one damaged man (Ryan drinks a bit too much and suffers from a bad heart) against another.
The overtones of literature and tech-phobia, not to mention all those young killers and oh, yeah, Carroll's lovely wife, meant there was a lot going on in "The Following." And every episode brought more.
Purefoy made a meal of Carroll, the notion of a community of sociopaths hilariously backfired, Poe flew out the window, the body count hit dizzying heights, Carroll’s kid became a troubling linchpin and the FBI suddenly couldn't catch a three-legged dog in a locked room and Williamson’s penchant for grisly humor increasingly poked through.
All of which would have been fine except no one seemed to have cc’ed the star on the Let’s Further Explore the Relationship Between Lurid Violence and Humor memo. Bacon was left trying to anchor the show as it had been originally imagined -- a tricked out but still fairly standard messed-up cop 'n' crazy nemesis procedural --- while everyone else engaged in some form of satire.
Anguished became Hardy’s standard setting.
No more. Now Bacon and Hardy are in on the joke. A physical and emotional wreck for almost the entire first season -- in their first go-round, Carroll nearly killed him, damaging his heart -- Hardy is hale and fit, ready to make it clear to anyone who asks that he has Moved On. Never mind that a Carroll acolyte killed his true love in the season finale, never mind that many people believe Carroll is not dead, never mind that "The Following" appears to be on the move again. Hardy is done. Done, done, done.
And oh, that Secret Room? With all the stuff tacked to the cork board? Well, who doesn’t have one of those? Claire Danes got one over on “Homeland” and she just keeps winning Emmys.
Hardy’s not done, of course, and neither is Carroll, as the season premiere rather predictably makes clear in the final minutes (though we did love the "Dexter"-like beard, the question is: Is this new set of murderers, the ones in the Carroll masks, true followers or have they simply hijacked Carroll’s game? If it’s the latter, there is a chance he and Hardy may find themselves on the same side, a “Dexter” meets “Homeland” meets “Silence of the Lambs” set up that could be hilarious indeed.
But only if Bacon remains in the loop this time.