Creatively, there was almost nowhere for "The Following" to go after the first season's drunken stumble toward the finish line. But since the show was reasonably successful, the producers had little choice but to forge ahead in a similar mode -- using a helpful lapse of time that can't fully right the ship or smooth over the plausibility-straining aspects of this serial-killer-and-his-adoring-acolytes conceit. Because of those commercial realities, Kevin Bacon's FBI agent can't resist getting pulled back into the fight. But for those whose high hopes for the series were squandered, staying away will be a considerably easier proposition.
Given where the first season ended, there wasn't much "The Following" could do that would redeem itself. Yet why bother trying to shake up the formula, such as it was? So the Fox drama returns with Bacon's Ryan Hardy back on his feet, even as he protests that he wants out of the chasing-cultish-serial-killers game.
Without giving too much away, as the promos have made clear, Bacon's dogged out-of-retirement lawman pulled through from the knife wound he suffered at the end of season one, and while the world thinks he's dead, Hardy's convinced dropping a burning house on cult figure Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) wasn't enough to do him in, either.
Still, series creator Kevin Williamson (who wrote the premiere, directed by Marcos Siega) has to go through some of the expected contortions, including a new outbreak of senseless killings by Carroll acolytes wearing plastic masks and shouting "Resurrection!" (In this context, the subtext associated with Carroll's messianic devotees and his initials seems even more suspect.)
Adding more names to the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, meanwhile, are James McDaniel as the lead investigator on these new attacks and Connie Nielsen as a woman who survives the opening spree.
Who else has lived, died or found a place on the show beyond season one's inordinately high mortality rate? The more pertinent question might be who'll care at this point, when "The Following" became so sloppy and promiscuous in those later episodes.
Still, the skein does deliver an adrenaline rush, and Fox is once again aiming it squarely at an audience that prioritizes that kind of thing, airing the premiere Sunday to benefit from the massive lead-in provided by playoff NFL football, before the series takes up residence again Monday nights. And Bacon and Purefoy do offer a high-class pairing; you just wish they weren't trapped in one of those scenarios where people can die by the dozens and the principals won't experience anything worse than a bloody wound that conveniently misses every vital organ.
Frankly, given the popularity of the limited-series concept, "The Following" in hindsight was ripe for that sort of closed-ended treatment. As is, while the show might very well continue to register the demographic body count necessary to keep Fox satisfied, it's hardly worthy of much devotion, cultish or otherwise.
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