‘The Following,’ ‘The Americans’ premiered

Brent Bader, Columnist

It is that time of the year again, when new episodes of TV shows have returned to the airwaves after the winter holiday season and the networks start pilots for new shows.  With quite a few new shows beginning this winter, I have compiled a quick preview of two of the more popular or well-advertised shows that have premiered recently.  These quick previews are based upon the first three or four episodes of each show and how they have progressed so far.
First up is the new FOX drama The Following starring Kevin Bacon who plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent who was put on disability after a dangerous run-in with serial killer Dr. Joe Carroll played by James Purefoy.  Joe Carroll has recruited new followers to continue his work from behind bars and Hardy is called in to assist the FBI in their hunt.  This premise is one that’s been featured in hundreds of movies and TV shows before it, but this show’s twist involves chasing a killer’s cult rather than the killer himself.
Kevin Bacon is a strong lead for this show with a good cast to back him, but the real standout is Purefoy who is able to give off a very unsettling demeanor as he taunts and plays with the FBI team.  While the cast is solid, the show quickly becomes like any other procedural drama with a “killer of the week” type of setup. A few other issues I had were numerous flashbacks that are included to tell background story in a rather lazy manner, which become tiring after the second episode, and an uninteresting and sometimes laughable side-story involving a handful of killers at a safehouse which brings the show down a notch.  Ultimately, The Following is a good procedural drama at the time but doesn’t do much to help it stand from the crowd other than some interesting lead characters.
Next up is The Americans on FX which stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as undercover KGB agents living in America during the cold war.  Arguably the most unique show to debut this winter, The Americans has a cast that gives solid performances as KGB agents pretending to be regular citizens.  The 80’s setting is also used effectively without it being a major distraction from the show as it sometimes can be in period pieces and The Americans has dedicated itself to this era including interactions with various real people that were in office during the Cold War.
Conveniently, their new next-door neighbor just happens to be an FBI agent dedicated to rooting out soviet spies, but this small plot contrivance can be excused as a way to create more tension for the series.  Flashbacks are kept to a minimum (so far) and only when the plot requires it, with my only real complaints being some awkward dialog scenes between characters.  The best moments come from the couple’s discussions about their double life and being forced to do inhumane things to relatively innocent people, an important step to ensure the audience doesn’t lose connection with what most Americans would consider as the “bad guys”.  The Americans is off to a very solid start and I look forward to seeing where this tense thriller goes in the future.