Sky Atlantic, Tuesday

TV review: The Following - Watch out – here comes the splatter

The blood comes thick and fast in this gripping American drama about a clever serial killer

Blood and gore are nothing new in the cinema. On television, there has been the occasional horror series – The X-Files, Buffy – but the fashion now is for subtler types of suspense: the spy thriller or psychological noir. So Sky Atlantic's new offering, The Following, at least has the merit of novelty.

Imported from America, it's a 10-part drama about a highly intelligent English lecturer turned serial killer, Joe Carroll, who from prison puppet-masters a cult of mini-mes. The idea is quite intelligent too. According to the FBI, there are 300 serial killers operating in America on any given day. The spine-chiller in this case is that, thanks to the internet, Carroll can orchestrate their activities into a simultaneous, nationwide bloodbath. This brilliantly bundles all of America's biggest fears into one – psychopaths, terrorists and the killer in our midst.

Episode one served as a neat prologue to what promises to be an unbearably watchable horror series. Kevin Bacon – yes, the A-list actor who normally makes movies – is our hero Ryan Hardy, a grizzled FBI agent brought out of retirement to track down Carroll, who has escaped from prison. By the end of the episode, a few bodies later, Carroll's back behind bars, but that's only the start: now begins his real killing spree, as he unleashes his tribe of brainwashed loonies to strike.

From the first minute, it's ketchup a-go-go. There isn't just one killer on the loose, remember, but all his disciples. It's like a zombie movie, where the characters you least expect to be baddies – the cops, the gay couple next door – suddenly swivel their eyes to become dead-eyed stabbers. I made the mistake of watching a trailer about the making of The Following beforehand; it showed the man with the bucket of red gloop and paintbrush going round the set trilling: "Here comes the spatter!" I'm sure I would have been much more frightened later without his words repeatedly popping into my head.

Even so, this is gripping stuff. The frantic pace means there's at least one maiming every five minutes. The script won't win the Man Booker, though the theme of the murders is semi-literary: Carroll is a devotee of Edgar Allan Poe. So after one killing, the legend "Nevermore" is daubed in blood on the wall. With another, Carroll had a stab at his victim a few years back, and comes back to finish her off, like Poe's unfinished novel. Or something.

Bacon is a class act, even if his character is fleshed out with the usual tropes of a flawed detective –swigs of vodka and an ill-advised romantic entanglement. And James Purefoy is well cast as the nutty professor, not so much because of his English accent (of course!) but because he looks quite like Fred West. The psychology of horror films is that the killer always dies in the end, so catharsis is achieved. With a 10-parter, that's not possible in each chunk, so it'll be interesting to see how The Following gets round it. What it does mean is that once you've watched episode one, you have to watch the whole lot, even if you really don't want to.

Which could never be said of Downton Abbey. I can honestly say I haven't had a single nightmare as a result of not watching the last series. Still, I couldn't resist ITV's latest shameless spin-off – Great Houses with Julian Fellowes (ITV1, Tuesday). The title rather says it all: our own Billy Bunter tooling round Britain's biggest piles "in search of the real Lord Grantham". They even use that blue and black split-screen Downton logo. But the comparisons fell away pretty quickly. Soon we were into a fully fledged history lesson from Professor Fellowes about the Cecils of Burghley House, who "rose to be first earls, and then marquises of Exeter". Just as well we're all up to speed on our squirearchy!

And there was none of that hand-holding with the storyline you get in Downton, no helpful lines from Bates telling us the First World War had just broken out. You had to pay attention, otherwise you began to wonder why Fellowes was chuntering on about the Earl of Oxford's thigh. I blame ITV for dressing this up as being somehow Downton related: it was actually a rather decent history documentary, more of a Who Do You Think Are? with ruffs. Anyone who tuned in hoping for some pantomime knockabout had to make do with the occasional one-liner from Widmerpool. "I'm no revolutionary," he beamed at one point, "but sometimes you do see their point." Well, he's no Maggie Smith. Maybe he should do it in drag.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement