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Posted on Fri. Dec. 21, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Fox's violent new TV series, ‘The Following,’ badly timed

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NEW YORK — I got a look at the first episode of “The Following,” Fox's upcoming crime thriller, a few weeks ago.

Its level of graphic violence left me disgusted and dismayed. But with plenty of time to spare before its Jan. 21 premiere, I set it aside, resolving to give the show another chance while wondering if I was just having a bad day.

More of “The Following” arrived from Fox last Friday, a really bad day. But I made time to watch those additional three episodes over the weekend, between heartbroken stretches viewing coverage of the shootings in Connecticut.

But my reaction to “The Following” was no more pronounced than weeks earlier. My opinion was the same: “The Following” is a showcase for gratuitous carnage and cruelty that might best be described as pornographic.

To be fair, there's much to like about the show. It has a fine cast, in particular Annie Parisse (“Law & Order”), Natalie Zea (“Justified”) and James Purefoy (“Rome”). And who doesn't love Kevin Bacon, making his entry into series television?

Plus, it was created by Kevin Williamson, known for the horror films “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and the TV series “The Vampire Diaries,” but also for “Dawson's Creek.”

Never mind all that. (Alert: spoilers ahead.)

The premise is a rickety contrivance. Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent pulled out of retirement to track down a serial killer he nabbed years before but who escapes from prison in the gory opening scene.

Joe Carroll (Purefoy) was a charismatic English professor and novelist with a taste for Edgar Allen Poe and grisly performance art (his specialty is stabbing deaths and the removal of his victims' eyes). He was convicted a decade ago for the murder of 14 young women at the university where he taught.

Little is left to the imagination on “The Following,” which fetishizes butchery almost as much as its arch-villain.

But the bulk of the brutality is delegated by Carroll (who is back in jail by the end of the premiere) to a legion of psycho-disciples — that is, his Following. These ghastly Santa's Helpers infiltrate the world, poised to do their master's murderous bidding. To me, “The Following” looms as the wrong show at the wrong time, a red flag being waved at a sorrowful nation. But it isn't just a matter of too much too soon. I think any time would be too soon for this kind of show.

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