Grace Dent on TV: The Following

If you're clever enough to get all the literary references in this show, you're way beyond watching it

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The Independent Culture

This week I watched many things in a lacklustre manner and not in their entirety. It was a tawdry week for television. A gentle BBC2 documentary on town planners? Will Mavis from number 67's complaint jeopardise stage 4b:12 of the Little Bumpton bypass? My face is a rhapsody of “don't care”s.

How about BBC1's Waterloo Road, the school where all the GCSE pupils are in their late twenties and there's a hostage situation and an ectoptic-pregnancy stretcher-case every other lunchtime? No. How about Call the Midwife? Do I want to see women with their kneecaps nuzzling their ear lobes covered in prop-department sweat, haemorrhaging in childbirth? I do not. Those bits in Countryfile where a ruddy-faced man has both arms to the elbow inside a dismayed-looking cow? No. Embarrassing Fat Bodies, where a spherical male who has not seen his penis for six or seven months is eventually – via belly suspension – shown it by a crowd of ashen-faced doctors and it transpires to have warts and remnants of old toilet paper attached? Oh, the humanity.

OK, how about Borgen? Danish social-policy reform laid bare in 87 parts with subtitles. Borgen is the televisual equivalent of a long trip with an ingrown toenail to hole-punch-and-A4 suppliers Staples. Even seeing its tedious title on the EPG makes various tubings within me wither and decay. The Hairy Bikers Everyday Gourmet? Never have two men made such a colossal racket about corned-beef hash without a speedy return to an open prison. I did tell you this week had been rough.

On Wednesday Gail Platt from Coronation Street dry-humping Nigel Havers, whom her mother Audrey had dry-humped before, brought some hilarity, but, on the whole, this arid TV landscape almost drove me to read one of the many novels I buy and then leave in piles around the house gathering dust.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. Reading can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands, as Sky Atlantic's gruesome new acquisition, The Following, starring Kevin Bacon proves. Bacon, fresh from murdering his credibility in the new, nonsensical, 4G Everything Everywhere adverts, is now chasing an Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed psychopath with a fixation with gouging out women's eyes.

The Following is distinctly graphic, offering scenes bloodier and bleaker than an 18-certificate horror movie. It feels cheap and not as clever as it wants to be. If you're clever enough to understand all the literary references in this show, you're probably beyond wasting your time watching it. Killer Joe Carroll, played by Brit James Purefoy, is, essentially, a dislikable smart-arse with a library card and quick-fire butchery skills who leaves crime scenes festooned with bite-sized entrail goujons and a few torn-out pages of The Masque of the Red Death. Women are infatuated with this handsome, charismatic killer, apparently. This bewilders me, because a mere 10 minutes alone with Carroll and I'd be hoping my end would be clean and fast, beginning with him cutting off my ears to avoid him wanging on about his English dissertation. “Yeah we've all read some classics Joe, uni was great, move on pal.”

There is a scene at the end of episode one of The Following where – and this is a spoiler so don't read any further if you're planning to watch it – are you still reading? OK, here goes. So we've emotionally invested quite strongly in some pretty slip of a girl whom Joe sees as “unfinished business” as he was thwarted halfway through murdering her a decade ago. But now Joe is loose again and, for a whole hour, we've watched all attempts to keep this fragile stab-wound-covered young woman safe fail. Joe is just too damn sharp. This is what happens if you actually attend the lectures at uni and don't lie around in your bed with a two-for-one Coors beer hangover eating mini Babybels and listening to Cud.

So finally, we find the girl and she's dead; very, very dead, suspended from a beam, upside down with her eyes gouged out while Joe stands beside the corpse doing a “look what I've done, I'm amazing” expression. He plays a tape of her screaming and begging for her life while in the process of having her eye-tendons sliced. “She was very strong, she didn't die as quickly as I expected,” Joe guffaws.

I don't think I want to see nine more episodes of Joe, I feel as if I've made my mind up. I dislike him more strongly than the people who wrote Kevin Bacon's “it's a cracker” TV adverts, and I am currently on a restraining order from the area of Soho, London, that gave birth to them.

One rather amazing thing about The Following is that it's no way as strong as Channel 4's Utopia. Channel 4 has casually spewed out something so cerebral and multi-layered, brimming with haunting performances, that it beats a vast Sky Atlantic acquisition. Writer Dennis Kelly should be very proud.

Anthea Turner in pigtails ice-dancing to “Puppy Love” by Donny Osmond on Dancing on Ice. I can't believe they voted her out. Seriously.