Why The Following Just Might Be the Most Insulting Show on TV

After 12 weeks, Fox's crime thriller "The Following" isn't the show we expected

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Barbara Nitke/FOX

The Following may very well be the most insulting show on television.

It’s not that the Fox drama—about the hunt for an escaped serial killer and the community of wannabe serial killers that he’d built up around him—actively insults those who tune in. Indeed, it’s a relatively smart, tense drama peppered with references to Edgar Allen Poe and cultural and technological concepts that aren’t necessarily real (or logical). However, every single episode since the pilot has hinged on one basic concept: The good guys are apparently idiots.

At first, I was okay with this. I could accept that law-enforcement might be fallible; otherwise, the show would be an hour of Kevin Bacon’s former FBI agent Ryan Hardy talking to James Purefoy’s creepy-yet-charming psychopath Joe Carroll, explaining that there was no way that an imprisoned serial killer would’ve been able to use the Internet to set up thousands of websites to gain acolytes without everyone in the prison knowing about it (and logging the IP addresses of those visiting the sites).

So, that initial oversight could be forgiven. After all, there comes a point in almost every story where something impossible — or, at least, hugely unlikely — has to happen to create some form of dramatic tension. And in most of those cases, we find ourselves a willing accomplice to whatever crimes of credibility are committed. Sure, we may roll our eyes in comic frustration and mutter a Oh, come on — but on the whole, we’re willing to forgive a lot if it means exciting things happen in our fictions.

The problem with The Following is that these moments of idiocy are not few and far between. In fact, as Vulture pointed out earlier this week, every single episode of the show has asked us to believe that the FBI agents hunting the serial killing cult  have made at least one fatal, and often ridiculous, error in judgment or procedure that prevents them from catching the bad guys.

I get what the show is trying to do here; it’s obvious that we’re meant to feel that, no matter what Ryan and his team does, they remain one step behind Carroll because Carroll is that smart and has planned everything in advance. It’s a way to ratchet up the tension and push us towards the feeling that the authorities aren’t necessarily the ones in control of the situation here — that the good guys are the underdogs, and may not ultimately save the day.

The problem is that Carroll’s successes to date have relied less upon brilliant plans that could only have come from the mind of a genius, and more the result of increasingly inept behavior from his opponents. There’s been nothing particularly impressive — or, indeed, particularly cunning — about the various schemes that have fooled the FBI team investigating the serial killing cult. And as a result, the entire series to date has left the viewer with the increasing feeling that, just maybe, the good guys aren’t very good at what it is they do.

In many ways, that feels as if it breaks some kind of agreement with the audience. In order for a show like The Following to work as a tense drama, the audience should believe that both sides are locked in a fair fight, where both sides are evenly matched. Otherwise, the show becomes something different — a potentially a darker one, where evil is cunning and ever-present, while the forces of good bumble haplessly behind.

Ultimately, that’s why The Following feels so insulting; it expects the audience to not notice — or not care — that its heroes fail to meet the standards that the format expects of them. Instead of  working harder to fulfill the dynamic it advertises, or rework the show as the more pessimistic, more downbeat drama that it has become. To keep presenting it as a chase thriller, where the good guys aren’t doomed to failure on account of being incompetent — well, an audience can suspend belief for only so long.

59 comments
jmcaward@verizon.net
jmcaward@verizon.net

If Joe Carroll and Lily Gray and/or their followers are not gone by the end of season 2, I will no longer watch one more episode.  Let's give Ryan Hardy a new case to solve and make a clean break with the current bunch of psychopaths.

Tain
Tain

This show has seriously been on my nerves, I am only on episode 4 of season 1, and the sheer amount of stupidity committed by those "FBI" agents and the amount of absolutely impossible events occurring is down right insulting to the viewers!! 

Should I start to count all those it will take a whole chapter to complete it. To sum it all, the FBI agents are idiots and the so called smart psychopath is not so smart, as just dealing with people, whom are absolutely terrible at the job they are doing. 

If that is how the real FBI operates, there will be serial deaths and unsolved cases on a daily basis. 


Also the show is trying to use the awe factor of the amount of gore and innocent blood splat, and I think this is far less how a show about genius serial killer and smart detective should be approached, this type of show belongs to a Halloween Slasher to be honest! 

JayJohnson1
JayJohnson1

The bottom line about this show is the sheer number of innocent people that are brutally murder in sick deprived methods. As a society we can accept a show where a good guy or a bad guy is killed.  However, this show goes far beyond that.  The pure unrelenting torture and murder which are major crimes, we are viewing as entertainment.  It makes you wonder if we are feeding people with the idea that human life is worthless and can become sport. My argument is about the shear extent this show goes to in order to shock the public.

whiterabbit
whiterabbit

And we wonder why there is no respect for life.  Too many sick people watching.


GlennRussell
GlennRussell

lol have always thought the same about this series,could have been one of the greats,but dont the fbi look like idiots in every episode....they should sue the producers for making them look like idiots.

If it was not for Bacon this would have been canceled ages ago.

gregccox
gregccox

I'm glad it's not just me.  I'm just about to the point of giving up on it, because of the ridiculous ways the protagonists manage to let the antagonists out of their grasp week after week.  And I'm a big Bacon fan. 

RodneyWest
RodneyWest

with all the sickness in society today, this show is very irresponseble , turning ''joe'' into an icon on easily tuned in tv is asking for trouble , as the''wrong people '' will most certainly be influenced by this program . iam anything but prudish .however this show is dangerous .

RodneyWest
RodneyWest

with all the sickness in the world today ,turning a ''joe'' into an icon , is totally irresponsible . iam any thing but prudish , however this show is truly asking for trouble , and there is know way the ''wrong people'' will not be influenced by this show.

TheoYoung
TheoYoung

I hate this show the ending of season 1 was tearable nobody wants Claire to die and who ever made this show or thinks like this should be put in a mental hospital I hate this show!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

AaronPynn
AaronPynn

This is an insultingly bad review for a show that's smarter than this reviewer.

jamesbrian2002
jamesbrian2002

I have tried to watch the show a few times ,  keep regretting the decision.  Very stupid writing . I really like Kevin Bacon as an actor but story is just so stupid. Crazy lunatic kidnaps his sister, blindfolds himself , allows wacko to tie him up and trusts her to let him go? Cop finds two elderly people butchered , then is confronted by some strange guy(unarmed) and allows strange guy to approach him, disarm him and kill him. It goes on and on .  Also prison visitor conversation with inmates are often monitored, especially mass murderer whack jobs. Real shame because show has a lot going for it .

By the way the squishing stab sounds that go on and on. Really ?

MichaelEasterwood
MichaelEasterwood

Come on none of the law enforcement wear vest and Swat doesn't have body armor on. The bad guys kill Swat guys with

handguns, this would never happen in real life.

WBrianMartin
WBrianMartin

the show is just like 24, it is driven by the heore's mistakes.  Still it is good candy.


RosieFbxAK
RosieFbxAK

Yeah - I'm a little late to the party here. What can I say - I don't have TV reception, I watch on Netflix.  That said... I was rather surprised to read this review of _The Following_!  You wrote, "...every single episode of the show has asked us to believe that the FBI agents hunting the serial killing cult  have made at least one fatal, and often ridiculous, error in judgment or procedure that prevents them from catching the bad guys." And that is NOT the take I had on the show AT ALL... until you mentioned it.  I guess I just don't expect shows & movies to spoon feed me every angle of every plot of every episode.  I never thought of the good guys at idiots at all. I continuously was aware that every good guys was *potentially* one of the bad guys and figured THAT was how the bad guys kept getting away with their antics. With every episode I'd see tiny hints or nuances in this or that "good guy" that made me think, "Ah-ha! S/he's a badguy!" most weren't, some were, some I still suspect. I'm not generally a big fan of mysteries or who-done-it's but I am a ginormous fan of crime shows from whatever angle.  For me _The Following_ is a refreshing take on a combination of both which is what makes it so interesting.  Well... that and Kevin is the only kind of Bacon I thoroughly enjoy and can't get enough of! ;)

monirom
monirom

This just might be the most insulting review of a TV show's audience. We are not stupid, we accept the show at face value.

TravoltaBullock
TravoltaBullock

I may agree with it being a little out of control on the show but the reason I was watching it was because it was different from any cop show. I think there is more cop shows out there than reality t.v. and I am getting bored of seeing the same thing over and over again. Since I didn't know what the Following was all about when I first watched the episode I gave it only 10 minutes of it. As much as I like Kevin Bacon,

momof6
momof6

I watched it, yes, thinking "are they really that stupid?" Many times, but I really don't get the whole charismatic thing that Purefoy's character is supposed to have, AND to me, Ryan and Claire don't seem to have real chemistry at all.

JanetWalker
JanetWalker

Well Carroll got blown up and Hardy got stabbed.  That sort of ended it all, at least for me.

millerpizza
millerpizza

Boy, the last two commentators have made some valid points, but missed the basic message the article was trying to get across: the show expects us to believe the FBI are absolute idiots - not just mistake-prone, but idiots - in every episode. McMillan should have included some examples. Like: We caught the Boston bombers by locking down a city. In The Following, when the FBI identifies where the cult, which by then is already responsible for a whole slew of deaths, are holding the kid - they send two agents. Whoopee. And that happens just about every other episode. The director of a prison can single-handedly fool the FBI and other prison personnel when he frees Carroll, in what should have been the most scrutinized transfer of all time. We must believe that Carroll has been so charming that not one of the people he or his followers approached didn't want to join, and ran to the police instead. Of the dozens of followers, none ever had second thoughts, and went to the police, none shared their sick excitement with loved ones or friends, who could have gone to the police, etc. I watched the first 8 or 10 episodes, then got tired of, exactly, being insulted, and stopped watching. I mean really, for a show to be "tense", we do need to understand the ground rules. Here, the ground rule is that no matter what breakthroughs the FBI team has, they will behave like idiots when making crucial decisions, and the bad guys go on. So why would I want to pay attention to the investigation, if I know it's always going to be pointless? 

nynetguy
nynetguy

"I get what the show is trying to do here; it’s obvious that we’re meant to feel that, no matter what Ryan and his team does, they remain one step behind Carroll because Carroll is that smart and has planned everything in advance. It’s a way to ratchet up the tension and push us towards the feeling that the authorities aren’t necessarily the ones in control of the situation here — that the good guys are the underdogs, and may not ultimately save the day."

Is the author truly that clueless?

With the Boston Bombers the only way the authorities were able to catch them was with locking down an entire city. Does the author of this farce actually believe that the authorities are so "Johnny-on-the-spot" that they know what the bad guys will do before they do it?

"In order for a show like The Following to work as a tense drama, the audience should believe that both sides are locked in a fair fight, where both sides are evenly matched. Otherwise, the show becomes something different — a potentially a darker one, where evil is cunning and ever-present, while the forces of good bumble haplessly behind."

Welcome to the real world genius. Anyone stupid enough to believe that criminals and law enforcement are "locked in a fair fight" is truly too stupid to breath. Evil is cunning and ever-present and the forces of good do bumble haplessly behind except in those rare instances where they gain some piece of intel letting them know when, where and how something is going to happen.

As soon as the author wakes up and realizes that, for the most part, law "enforcement" works to SOLVE crimes and not PREVENT them then the author will realize that the reason "The Following" works as a tense drama is BECAUSE the sides are so incredibly unmatched. It's that sense of eternal inadequacy on the part of Ryan et al and the realization that our own lives are very similar which creates the tension in the show.

Seriously, how much of every day life are we aware of, even the parts which affect us? Someone could break into our local filtration plants and introduce any manner of biological agents into our water supply. Someone could gain access to the HVAC system of our office building and introduce some type of nerve agent. In both instances no one would know ANYTHING until it was way to late and the bodies were staking up. Apparently Graeme believes that everything in the world is fair and we would automatically KNOW of these evil plans as they were being formulated so our valiant law enforcement agencies would be able to act to stop them.

Graeme McMillan needs to wake up to the realities of the world he lives in.

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

"...In order for a show like The Following to work as a tense drama, the audience should believe that both sides are locked in a fair fight, where both sides are evenly matched. Otherwise, the show becomes something different — a potentially a darker one, where evil is cunning and ever-present, while the forces of good bumble haplessly behind..."

The shortsighted sentiment expressed in this article is breath-taking.  In TV shows, "art imitates [real] life."  In Real Life, people screw up, mistakes are made, and the outcomes are rarely as positive as originally intended.  Furthermore, the notion of a "fair fight" always existing is equally absurd.  There are periods of time when one side is intellectually out-matched/out-gunned/etc..  Just look at the Joker in "The Dark Knight," or Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises."  Both had the wits to pre-plan almost a whole movie's worth of domination over the 'do-gooders.'

Given the above, is it really all that surprising that the show's creators intend the show to be, "a darker one?"  Also, going back to the short-sightedness of this article, how does the writer know that future episodes/seasons of the show will have the same tone and dynamic of this season?  Time has to be given for the storyline of the show to further develop.  Going back to Batman, if even the Joker and Bane got their comeuppance in the end, why couldn't the same happen to the villains in, "The Following?"

EmilioLizardo
EmilioLizardo

The problem is allowing the brain and logic challenged to write.   You can drive a starship through JJ Abrams plot holes.

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

I've never seen it, but after reading the article and the comments all I can say is "thank you for telling me so I don't waste any time watching it".  I thought the dumbest and most insulting show was Revolution, which I tried for three or so episodes.  Now I hear it is a "hit". 

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

I have the same gripe about "The Fringe".  It seems that no matter what the heroes do, they're constantly out-foxed, out maneuvered and left sitting there with their faces hanging out with nothing to show for it.  I know that's what real life is like most of the time, but I want to me entertained when I watch TV.  I don't want to be reminded that no matter how hard you try, you'll never get what you want unless the "powers that be" let you.

RootieKazoootie
RootieKazoootie

I so agree. I was trying to post almost the same comments to the Fox site for this show, but I can't find anywhere to post--- guess they don't want feedback. The FBI and Ryan are such utter bumbling incompetents they deserve their fates. They never get ahead of the guy, they don't seem to be capable of thinking it through, they just run straight ahead into every trap set for them without a moment's pause or consideration. They completely fail to use the most obvious modern technology that any beat cop knows about. Keystone Cops indeed.

And, yes, even the basic premise is entirely absurd. While this guy is locked away in prison he's building up a cult of dozens of serial killers and planning out this elaborate plot? And no one ever gets a clue that it's happening? And all of these crazed serial killers are able to appear completely normal for years on end and plant themselves deeply into police forces and government agencies and peoples' private lives?


I think I'll pass on Season 2.

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

without reading past the first paragraph i know that it's insulting that everyone is so incompetent.  come on, the keystone cops did better police work than all the bungling law enforcement agencies on this show.

for example--they show a hundred swat team and fbi agents ready to storm a house, then the bad guys slip out the back door guarded by 2 barely conscious police dorks who are taken out in seconds.  and on and on and on.  i can only suspend disbelief for so long.  i think i made it through episode 6 or 7 and that's as far as i go.

SamuelAdams
SamuelAdams

Gee, and here I thought I was the only one thinking this.


Really - the show sucked after the first episode, but I've invested this much time into it and kept hoping it'd get better.


It REALLY sucks because I really like James Purefoy - and this role has him playing a simpering clown with delusions of grandeur.  I just can't see any of the grandeur and only see the simpering clown.

mandycat
mandycat

Since I rarely watch television (and then usually only home improvement shows and old movies) I was interested to know which show was currently the most insulting.    Based on what I've read here and there, the competition must be fierce.

LarryMorgan1
LarryMorgan1

Put Raylan Givens on the case and it would last one episode...

ScreamingBear
ScreamingBear

I thought I was by myself on this. I had come to similar conclusions as well with this show. It jumped the shark when the latest cult member was an old girlfriend of Ryan Hardy. Well, just how many cult members are there and how obsessive is this cult leader with Ryan Hardy? What is the point of all of this? Just when you think you've beaten this horse to death with subversive cult leaders, another one pops up and last night's show they allowed another cult member to attack an agent when clearly the previous cult members pursued their agenda while the FBI once again looked like idiots playing the good guy roles and let these terrorists do as they please. Where is the Patriot Act in all of this? They've killed with total malice and the FBI treats them like they are on a sleepover. I've had enough of the pablum spewing FBI. Where's Tommy Lee Jones when you need him? 

RooganWashington
RooganWashington

i've watched the series from the beginning and i totally disagree with your article. the following shows the hardships the good guys face, not every story ends in a happy ending and the ideals that the good guys always win is superficial. this show isn't afraid of breaking grounds or minds. everyone is entitled to their opinions but people are just looking at the surface of the show. sounds a little judgmental

ScottOgden
ScottOgden

I watched this for the first 4 shows- but gave up on the ridiculous conceits that it's directors & writers ask of the viewers.  It's easy to suspend disbelief for a 90 min. or 2-hr. movie, but week after week, forget it- there are much better things to watch (even Fox networks;  Americans, Justified, etc.) to warrant wasting time with this show.   

aobjustme
aobjustme

While agree with your assessment my gut tells me the general public (myself included) will continue rating the show highly. Example - " 24"

aobjustme
aobjustme

While agree with your assessment my gut tells me the general public (myself included) will continue rating the show highly.

Example - " 24"

BruinZealot
BruinZealot

Article hit it right on the mark.  I recently read an interview w/ the writer where we are suppose to suspend disbelief.  I could understand doing that if this show was Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, but a show grounded in reality, can only that for so much.  Especially, when its not even about law enforcement tactics really, but just plain old common sense.  I can tell its starting to grate on my wife too, which is telling since she is the one that tells me to calm down and go with it.  Going to finish season off, but I can't take anymore of the non-sense.

gss
gss

I don't know that the premise of the show is to point out how "stupid" the good guys are, but how cunning and intellegent the bad guys are. I have to wonder, if you really don't like the show why do you continue to watch it?

RkNRollaAyatola
RkNRollaAyatola

It's entertaing, there's nothing else to watch on Mondays anyway...so really who cares about how "real" it is? What's next, we shouldn't watch Oblivion because we've never been attacked by aliens 60 years ago and THAT is fake? lol

ktmoan
ktmoan

I've been watching this on Hulu, and seeing all the episodes back to back really enhances the 'formula'. I started off really liking the series, but now it is becoming very tired and somewhat annoying. I would also argue that the incredulity of the series is not just because of the 'oops' factor and the good guys always blundering (that is definitely in the show), but the show also adds on a pre-planned criminal strategy that is 100x less credible, and tops it all off with a Hannibal Lecter-type gruesomeness on a scale that is also incredulous. In a movie of 2 hours you may have one (or two) of these elements coming into play, but this is getting to be too much.

At the end of it all you are left with the good guys almost always being idiots, a crazy sophisticated bad guy always winning, and some sort of Manson/Hannibal Lecter character treating us to misery with little effort -- episode after episode.

I am sure this show appeals to some people -- it use to appeal to me and appeals to me in a movie format of about 2 hours, but hour after hour, it gets old. Hopefully the formula changes a bit as the show develops, but right now it is too weighted towards the bad guys 'winning', which ultimately leads to very unpleasant things happening. I can make these sort of leaps of logic every now and then, but 10+ episodes is a lot of leaping.

zeustiak
zeustiak

Sounds like someone watches too much CSI.  

I don't watch the Following, but it sounds like the good guys have been brought back to reality from their previously CSI-elevated stature as investigative gods.  

JenniferBlazevich
JenniferBlazevich

Yes they make many mistakes, and yes it is very strung out, but why do you watch movies that are stupid and not quite realistic, because they are entertaining. I complain about their stupidity but continue to watch week after week because the writer is doing their job by having you wonder what is going to happen next.

sciorangah
sciorangah

@whiterabbit  Murder and crime rate has decreased despite the liberalization of television. You're an ignorant idiot. 


"The U.S. murder rate last year hit the lowest level since 1966 as the number of serious crimes committed nationwide fell for the eighth year in a row, the FBI said today."


Twit.

GlennRussell
GlennRussell

@AaronPynn  Smart show lol you are definitely not talking about the following are you?The evil killers get away week after week.They are there for the picking and wow everyone is a follower of Joe Carrol,so they get away.We have lost so many good guys in this series that i have lost count,and most to stupid deaths that could have been avoided..and would have been avoided in real FBI life.

If it was not for Bacon this show would have ended ages ago....that would have been a SMART move.

ianhoder2
ianhoder2

@AaronPynn  The reviewer could be clinically brain dead and I would still consider him smarter than this moronic show.  

AnthonyMcClellan
AnthonyMcClellan

@AaronPynn  For you to even state that The Following is a SMART show insults my intelligence. And clearly exposes your obvious lack thereof. This show is long-form nonsense.


There are only two marginally likable characters this season, but they repeatedly do the typical incompetent things that every 'good guy' on this show does. Any goodwill I gave them quickly erodes to more of the same disgust for bad writing/storytelling that is the staple of this show.


The weekly plot holes are large enough to drive a semi-truck through. Three examples from the 02/18/2014 show:

(1) Giselle gets an orgasmic thrill from killing people, but she walks away from a gift-wrapped kill. And she leaves without taking any weapons or phones.

(2) Every person involved in this cult is either a killer or a killer in training, and they all want to kill Ryan Hardy. So why does Hardy never shoot-to-kill them on sight.

(3) What happened to Hardy's heart condition? He running like a track star all the time. The show stated that he went into a downward spiral after Claire Matthews' death. So how can he suddenly sprint everywhere, even after being shot?


The show should be renamed to "The Implausible, Overdone, Gratuitous, and Insulting."

TravoltaBullock
TravoltaBullock

the reason why I walked away was because I was tired of watching another cop show after all they're just the same. luckily I never shut off the TV and when I got back it caught my attention. I said finally something different. how many more cop shows do we need that that is realistic. enough is enough. glad it made it through the first season and I'm glad it's coming back for the second

Yygar
Yygar

Dexter Morgan would stretch it out at least a half season, but man the payoff would be worth it.

sciorangah
sciorangah

@AnthonyMcClellan @AaronPynn  The goal of Federal Agents is to subdue outlaws, not kill them. If they are endangering the lives of innocents or have the opportunity to reprimand a criminal and instead kill them then they can get into deep sh**. The whole fact you do not know this proves that your intelligence deserves to be insulted. 


In regards to your comment on his heart condition, I personally know someone who goes running (and recently ran 10 miles in a single day) quite often and has a heart condition. Once again, your ignorance shines. Please look into the topics you speak of. Your whole comment is insulting and implausible. 


Here is a bit tit for tat:


Medline Plus ~ "Getting regular exercise when you have heart disease is important.

Exercise can make your heart muscle stronger. It may also help you be more active without chest pain or other symptoms."