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Tuesday Notebook

By Rich Heldenfels Published: January 22, 2013

I took a long weekend, mainly because I have to work this coming weekend, so the bride and I had a chance to take care of a few things and relax. This does not mean I was absent from the paper. See this piece about things Beacon Journal critics have said over the years with this sidebar of reviews of Oscar-winnning movies. I had my weekly DVD column, including some thoughts about "Searching for Sugar Man" and the disturbing, effective "Compliance." I also had a review of "The Following," which premiered last night, in Sunday's Beacon Journal; it does not appear to have made it to Ohio.com so I have posted the text below*.

Getting back to the weekend, the Christmas tree is finally down, the ornaments packed for a trip back to storage. We caught up on some of our usual viewing, and a few different things. "Taken 2" on DVD: Wow, what a waste of cinema. The first movie moved quickly; it was amusing pulp. This one was slow, even sluggish; it took about half an hour to get all the plot elements in place and start the action. We also tried "Won't Back Down": much as I like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, it didn't take long to feel that we knew every note the movie was going to hit, and went on our way. (Our way, by the way, included a trip to Mountaineer, where I learned how much I could lose in penny slots in short order.) And there was a lot of football watching on Sunday, more than I at first planned.

If our viewing had a highlight, it was catching up on Season 3 of "Hot in Cleveland." I like the show very much; it's straightforward old-school sitcom, the characters malleable enough for different situations, and Betty White making the whole thing even better. There's a moment where Victoria thinks Elka (played by White) is God, and the series of looks that cross White's face show what a thorough pro she is. There's another episode where Elka gets a checkup and is told she's so healthy, she could live forever. I hope White does. In any case, we went through a fistful of episodes, skipping only when we hit one we remembered seeing -- and even watching some of those again.

*The review of "The Following":

 The Following is not only a thriller in the manner of Silence of the Lambs but a meditation on modern terrorism, on the idea that anyone you know could prove to be a menace, that death is always possible, that you are never safe.

 An executive at Fox, which is airing the series, has proclaimed it the next 24, and it is, right down to the damaged hero (Kiefer Sutherland in the earlier series, Kevin Bacon here). But The Following is much bloodier, and more unsettling, even if — like 24 — it asks the audience to accept some ludicrous and less-than-surprising plot turns along the way.
 

Premiering at 9 p.m. Monday, the series stars Bacon as Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent whose greatest accomplishment (and last satisfaction) came a decade ago. It was then that he caught Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), a brilliantly twisted serial killer, though not before Carroll had left more than a dozen victims behind. As the series begins, Carroll escapes and Hardy is brought back to help catch him. But it soon enough turns out that Carroll has been doing more than sitting in a prison cell; he has disciples seemingly everywhere, all as eagerly murderous as Carroll himself.
Hardy is accordingly drawn back into Carroll's orbit, meeting with the killer, pursuing his acolytes, trying to keep there from being more victims. The task not only brings up things from Hardy's past, it involves constant frustration; one can easily see that series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, Vampire Diaries) wanted a framework for the story that could last many seasons.
 

Bacon is effective enough, Purefoy hammy. (I suspect he studied Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter too closely.) The cast also includes Natalie Zea as Carroll's ex-wife, Annie Parisse as the leader of the FBI investigation and Shawn Ashmore as a young FBI agent who is a Hardy fan — almost as devout as Carroll's followers. Other characters appear as well, though you never can be sure for how long, or what their agendas may be; by the fourth episode, a lot of time is being spent with various members of Carroll's crew.
 

The violence in this is as brutal as any I have seen in a broadcast network TV series, and there are some narrative shocks. But a reasonably suspicious viewer will be ahead of the characters even in the early going, and in later episodes, there is at least one "oh, come on" moment. After four telecasts, it began to wear on me; I wished it was a miniseries ready to wrap up instead of a series with many more episodes to go. Still, I remained curious about what surprises lay ahead.

 

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