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
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test