Instead of going on at length about a single show that has me fully entranced by its beauty, I’m going to go after a few shows. One that disappoints, and a couple that I await with the most bated of breaths.
Saving the best for last, I want to start by addressing a show called The Following. The Following first aired in January of 2013 and stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI Agent who is called in to consult when a serial killer he imprisoned escapes.
I was excited for the concept of the show. A serial killer has a cult-like following of unknown size working to free their hero and execute his ultimate plan. What was so titillating about it was the idea that anybody could be on Joe Carroll’s side, doing his dirty work. Nobody was safe and nobody was to be trusted. As the show progressed, it became clear that the plans for this rampage of carnage had been in the works for years, and Joe Carroll had essentially an army of blindly loyal and fearless soldiers to execute his nefarious plan.
This conceit, while brilliant, is the shows most fundamental flaw as well. What is so chilling about the idea of The Following is that people have given themselves body and soul to this leader, that they see his end game as a higher purpose than their own survival. This, of course, is almost immediately subverted by the character development of the followers. Everyone’s got their own feelings and needs, and worst of all, some begin to doubt the whole mission!
I’ll concede that there probably exists some reality in this approach, but what is much more evident is how utterly non-frightening this makes the show. It takes a situation where a lone FBI guy is facing a terrifying wave of heartless killers and turns it into a situation where a lone FBI guy is facing a bunch of whiny kids with knives.
And another thing! So often the action/suspense/thrills/horror is repetitive, formulaic and boring. I can’t think of one scene that had me thinking “I’ve never seen anything like that before.” For example: in the interest of what I can only imagine is suspense and thrills, practically every episode features a situation where a person is under heavy protection by the FBI and police, but somehow the bad guy lures their intended victim away from their guard, gets them alone, and stabs them or something. To be fair, sometimes they make one of the good guys turn out to actually have been a bad guy all along. You know, so it’s different.
It’s a show with such potential and such a far range for new and exciting ideas, and it is so profoundly squandered on weak plot points, shoddy suspense scenes, and the development of characters that shouldn’t be explored. But perhaps the true goal of the show is to be a safe, average drama series. If so, it’s succeeded. It’s certainly not a horror show.
On to more cheerful subjects: Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Amirite? I did an article a couple months ago, toward the end of the first season, gushing about how wonderful I thought the show was, and how scared I am of my unconscious mind.
Season two premieres at the end of February, and if the previews NBC put out are any gauge of the direction the show is going, I’m positively giddy. Will Graham is in jail, and everyone is struggling to believe him in the face of such overwhelming evidence against him. Meanwhile, as his therapist warned, Hannibal’s pattern is becoming more obvious and it appears his perfect world of murder and indulgence is crumbling.
But we get to see that over the course of a dozen episodes, so I look forward to the beginning of the season where Hannibal has just pinned his murders on another person, so he is free to kill as he pleases. And of course, there’s the inevitable reveal that Hannibal is the psychopath they’re looking for and Will’s vindication, but one that comes with no satisfaction, considering the body count it will cost to get to the truth.
Now, there’s a new show coming out from Showtime that looks like it’s got serious potential. Penny Dreadful is set to air May of 2014. It’s billed as a psychosexual horror series set in Victorian London that weaves the origin stories of classic literary horror characters together. Characters such as Dorian Gray, Count Dracula, and Victor Frankenstein and his monster.
I haven’t seen much beyond the few trailers that Showtime has on its website, so I’m leaning heavily on my hopes of what the show will be. That being said, you can do worse than to have Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett (thinking Lucky Number Slevin) front and center. Throw in the promise of lots of sex and violence and I’m tuning in for the premiere.
On the heels of the significantly disappointing series finale that Dexter delivered (and, come to think of it, the overall disappointment that Dexter came to be) Showtime could use a groundbreaking, edgy series to fill that void. And with series like Hannibal and American Horror Story that are breaking the standard drama formula and embracing a more literary approach to storytelling, Showtime needs to focus on the series unique opportunity to explore dark and unsettling territory, or run the risk of falling into the trap that The Following did.
Robb Olson is one half of the Booked. Podcast team. If you enjoyed his column, please consider clicking through to our Amazon Affiliate links and buying The Booked Anthology. If you do you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.