These two new high profile series couldn’t be any more different.
Fox’s The Following is about a modern day serial killer who inspires a cult like following of minions that need to be hunted down by a troubled, world weary FBI agent before they can murder innocents as part of the killer’s grand plan.
The new FX series The Americans’ setting is the early 80s and follows a married couple living in suburbia who happen to be covert Russian spies bent on destroying the American way of life.
However, there’s one underlying theme both share—how much can we really trust anyone?
Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) knows that the only person he can trust in The Following is himself. Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) has brainwashed so many people that even Hardy’s closest allies may eventually turn against him. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell) wear so many guises both as spies and at home that, often times, they’re not even certain they can trust one another in The Americans. They have to be on their toes in order to fool everyone, including their own children and neighbors (one of whom, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) happens to be an FBI agent and trusts almost no one).
The big question is: can we trust these two series to deliver the goods in terms of both quality and entertainment?
Well, this is where the problem lies.
Over the first two episodes, The Americans has been a taut, simmering thriller. In the pilot episode, the Jennings attempts to deliver a defector over to Russian authorities continue to go awry and they must conceal him in the trunk of their car before either their kids or their suspicious FBI neighbor discover their secret. In “The Clock”, the two agents must find a way to plant a bug in the office of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s office using unsavory coercion of an innocent maid and her family to complete the mission. Though the second episode had its flaws (for example, Elizabeth seems more concerned at getting caught than in the pilot slightly undermining her character), it retained the tension of the first. Will the Jennings decide to defect? Will they overcome the increasingly difficult missions assigned to them? How will they balance their lies when there are so many to maintain?
On the other hand, The Following is treading water and does little more than offer up the same script, tweaked slightly each week. Sure, there are some interesting moments. The events on the farm between cult members Jacob (Nico Tortorella), Emma (Valorie Curry) and Paul (Adan Canto) have some bright spots as we wonder if they’re going to play one against the other or live in uneasy harmony. But this will wear thin soon (though it looks as if next week’s episode may rectify that).
And how many times are we going to see Hardy confront Joe and ask what his ultimate plan is? It’s nothing more than a contrived method of getting the two actors in the same room to square off against one another. Both Purefoy and Bacon deserve better material to work with because neither is written as captivatingly as some of the minor players. In fact, Carroll’s son Joey seems to be the most intelligent character as he’s the only one with an inkling that something’s not right and it looks as if he’s planning to do something about it!
In all honesty, Hardy’s character summed up the show for me in Monday’s episode, “Mad Love”: “I just can’t see the brilliance in this. If you’re writing a book, where’s the smarts because so far, it seems like amateur hour.”
My sentiments exactly.
Out of sheer curiosity, I’ll watch the entire current run of The Following just to see if it gets any better (if I could give the continually disappointing Once Upon A Time a season and a half before abandoning it, I can at least give this 13 episodes). I just don’t think it will and will follow up on it in the column only if something merits attention. On the other hand, The Americans is well worth a viewer’s time.
The Following airs Mondays at 9pm on Fox WPGH TV-53. The Americans airs every Wednesday at 10pm on the FX network.