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Saturday 29 November 2014

Steer clear of The Following

Poor Kevin Bacon. For years he was branded by his breakthrough role in Footloose, one of the silliest, cheesiest films to come out of the 1980s.

Then there was the parlour game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which posits that any actor in Hollywood can be connected to Bacon in six steps.

He's currently milking that idea in a British mobile phone network advert where he strides around London pretending to be linked by six steps to things and people he's clearly never head of (Coronation Street, Jedward). And now here's The Following, which marks the first time he's starred in a TV series.

It's lousy. It's unsavoury. It positively reeks of cynicism, exploitation and casual misogyny. Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a raddled, maverick ex-FBI agent who swigs straight vodka from a mineral water bottle.

Hardy is called out of retirement when his former nemesis, and the man who stabbed him in the heart, causing him to be fitted with a pacemaker, escapes from Death Row, slaughtering five prison guards "in under two minutes". This is Joe Carroll, played with homogenous Brit-villain theatricality by James Purefoy. Carroll is an English literature professor and a serial killer; a kind of bargain-basement Hannibal Lecter who's obsessed with the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

We're expected to believe that while Carroll was in prison, he somehow gained access to the internet and has been recruiting online followers who will do his bidding in the outside world. Carroll, someone points out, was an inspiring teacher. Now he's inspiring his followers to murder.

In one especially ridiculous scene Carroll sends a text message to a woman, who then strips naked in public, revealing her body is covered with Poe-related tattoos, and promptly stabs herself in the eye.

It's an ugly, gratuitous bit of business, and it's not the only incidence of knife-and-eye-related violence directed at a female character. Later on, Carroll tracks down an intended victim he failed to finish off during his previous killing spree. He doesn't fail this time. Hardy discovers her body hanging upside down. Her eyes have been removed.

There are buckets of blood sloshing around The Following, yet this need not necessarily be a reason to dislike it.

Last week's episode of Channel 4's Utopia featured a horrible torture scene (coincidentally, also to do with eyes) but the unpleasantness was offset by the context and the overall brilliance of the production.

What really derails The Following is its hollow pretentiousness. The Poe references are a cheap and trashy insult to a unique author. Creator and chief writer Kevin Williamson revitalised the horror genre with his clever, flashy script for 1996's Scream, which playfully upended slasher movie conventions.

The Following tries to be clever and flashy too, with its convoluted storytelling and multiple flashbacks, but it's just so much empty showing off. At its core it's nasty, banal and silly.

Three years on the go in the US already, comedian Louis CK's marvellous series Louie finally arrives, even if it's only to Sky viewers with FOX (formerly F/X).

It's a bit like Seinfeld in that it combines sitcom with bursts of stand-up, and it's a bit like Curb Your Enthusiasm in that Louis CK is playing a loosely fictionalised version of himself -- hence the spelling change in the title. The filmed vignettes featuring "Louie", who's divorced and raising two daughters alone in New York City, are sometimes marvellously surreal. At the end of a disastrous first date, his companion leaves him in the lurch by flying away in a waiting helicopter.

But it's the real Louis' stand-up -- ruthlessly honest and fearlessly non-PC -- that provides the knockout punch. Here he is ranting about milk cartons: "It's too subtle a design for a seven-year-old. They have to pick at the glue and end up drinking out of this finger-filth disease spout. Put it in a bottle, not an envelope!"

Utterly brilliant.

The Following HIIII Louie HHHHH

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