Ellen Gray: 'The Following' is one scary show

Upcoming: Kevin Bacon (left) and James Purefoy in Fox's "The Following."
Upcoming: Kevin Bacon (left) and James Purefoy in Fox's "The Following."
Posted: January 22, 2013

* THE FOLLOWING. 9 p.m. Monday, Fox 29.

EDGAR ALLAN POE has some 'splainin' to do.

Women (and not a few men) will be dying on Fox starting Monday, and Poe will be there - in spirit, at least - to put a literary gloss on the horror.

Not that you have to know much more than the refrain of Poe's "The Raven" to keep up with "The Following," the blood-spattered thriller that marks Kevin Bacon's entry into prime-time TV.

Bacon stars as former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who in Monday's premiere is called in to help the agency track a death row escapee whom Ryan brought to justice 10 years earlier.

The fugitive: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy, "Rome"), a fiendishly clever serial killer (and English professor) whose obsession with Poe somehow led him to remove his victims' eyes.

This being television, where all serial killers are fiendishly clever, Joe needs more than smarts as a calling card and "The Following" creator Kevin Williamson ("Dawson's Creek," "The Vampire Diaries") has given him a doozy: a league of his own.

Or more accurately, a cult.

Turns out even those of us who avoid shows like "Criminal Minds" - less out of fear than disdain - can be terrified.

Not by violence alone (though over four episodes, that took its toll on me) but by the thought that those who already seem too interested in the Ted Bundys of this world might someday become organized enough to be dangerous. Especially the young ones.

We live in a world where our biggest fear may be that the kids are not, after all, all right. And "The Following" in the coming weeks will do what it can to feed that fear.

If only it weren't so good at it.

Bacon, always a watchable actor, is the perfect, and necessary, counterbalance to Purefoy.

We see Joe Carroll in flashback, striding around his college classroom, seducing students with his sonorous voice - and fabulous British accent - and in the present, taking care of unfinished business with equal style.

Bacon's left to play the slightly damaged hero. Hardy, who literally wrote the book on Carroll, now drinks too much and his telltale heart requires a pacemaker, a souvenir from his last close encounter with the killer, whose final victim he managed to save.

Natalie Zea ("Justified") plays Carroll's former wife, with whom Ryan has a past, and the mother of the killer's young son.

Poe will remain a touchstone, but Carroll's branching out: "My new story will play to a much wider audience," he promises.

Call me a wimp, but that may be what I'm most afraid of.

Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: EllenGray.tv

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