Didn’t Edgar Allan Poe have enough misery?
Fox’s “The Following” is a witless crime series about a Poe-obsessed serial killer and the cult that worships him.
Kevin Bacon, in his first (and badly chosen) starring role on primetime TV, plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent called back to the game when notorious killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, “Rome”) escapes from death row.
Carroll, an ex-professor of literature, specializes in Poe, not to mention the torture-murders of pretty female students.
Created by Kevin Williamson (“The Vampire Diaries”), “The Following” is ugly stuff, a base attempt by network television to mimic the graphic style of cable series like “Dexter.”
Unlike cable’s best, though, “The Following” offers no compelling characters or unexpected quirks. It unfolds in the rote, mechanical fashion of countless police procedurals.
The belabored Poe references make for tedious lecturing (“Poe believed that the eyes are our identity, the windows to our soul,” Hardy drones). Any jolts are provided by an endless succession of loud noises and high-decibel music cues.
The series’ sole innovation is the killer’s turf: By the end of the first episode, he’s back in prison, where he orchestrates copycat murders committed by his devoted, widespread followers.
This Charles Manson for the Internet Age even has his very own Squeaky Fromme in the pixie-like Denise (Valorie Curry).
“The Following” surrounds Bacon’s dour, alcoholic Hardy with his own acolytes, including an admiring FBI agent (Shawn Ashmore) and a by-the-book cult specialist (Annie Parisse).
Even the murderer’s beautiful ex-wife (Natalie Zea) is smitten with Hardy -- and a long-ago affair certainly didn’t sit well with her serial killer husband.
What they see in Hardy is anyone’s guess.
Bacon plays the character with laconic, gruff-voiced stoicism that’s meant to suggest a world-weary intimacy with life’s dark side.
In truth, the actor just seems bored. For good reason.
“The Following” airs Monday, Jan. 21, on Fox at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: *1/2
Compared to “The Following,” BBC America’s blood-soaked, effective “Ripper Street” is pure class.
A sort of “CSI: Whitechapel,” the British crime drama is set in the foggy alleyways and busy brothels of Victorian London.
Despite the title, Jack the Ripper is nowhere to be found here. The action takes place two years after his last known murder.
Still smarting from their failure to capture the madman, the East End detectives are ever vigilant.
But with crimes like these, who needs Jack?
In the first of eight self-contained episodes, Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) is convinced that the brutal murder of a young woman is the work of a Jack copycat.
His hunch leads to the city’s creepy porno underground, where he and his team discover evidence of some newfangled device that makes pictures move.
The cops’ introduction to motion pictures is a snuff film.
Clearly “Ripper Street” isn’t above clip-clopping down some tawdry cobblestone byways. In the second episode, an elderly toymaker is killed and de-tongued, possibly by one of the child gangs roaming the district.
Macfadyen is a bit bland, but “Ripper Street” features some appealing supporting performances.
Particularly good is Adam Rothenberg as Capt. Homer Jackson, a womanizing ex-Pinkerton detective who joins the Brits after fleeing America with a secret known only to brothel madame Long Susan (MyAnna Buring).
Created by Richard Warlow (“Mistresses”), “Ripper Street” has the trendy, oversaturated look of shows like “The Walking Dead.” It’s not nearly as compelling, visually or otherwise, as the BBC’s lushly decadent “The Crimson Petal and the White.”
Still, there’s some grisly intrigue to be found on ye olde London streets, Jack or no Jack.
“Ripper Street” airs Saturday, Jan. 19, on BBC America at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
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(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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