Saturday night, BBC America introduced Ripper Street, a 19th-century procedural haunted by the grisly barbarism of Jack the Ripper. Now comes Fox's much scarier, infinitely more graphic The Following (Monday, 9/8c), a gruesomely chilling no-holds-barred thriller that owes a morbid debt to the macabre imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe's literature, extolling "the insanity of art" and equating death with beauty, inspired a crime spree 10 years ago by charismatic serial killer Joe Carroll (the deliciously creepy James Purefoy), a popular literature professor turned notorious boogey man. He's especially fond of Poe's eye imagery — "the windows to our soul" and "the essence of identity," as various experts put it — which means you may want to cover your own eyes once Carroll engineers a bloody prison escape and sets an elaborate plan in motion, triggering more depravity and ocular butchery.
Carroll's main target this time around is the guy who put him away: Ryan Hardy, played by Kevin Bacon (in his overdue first series lead) with a gaunt and haggard intensity. Hardy left the FBI as damaged goods, physically and psychologically, after he jailed Carroll, but not before he slept with the fiend's wife, which complicates matters as Hardy is called back into service to oversee the Carroll manhunt.
The twists from series creator Kevin Williamson (the Scream films, The Vampire Diaries) are truly diabolical, especially in the terrifying pilot episode, which introduces a network of psychotic cult acolytes lying in wait to do their master's bidding. Who they are and how they are revealed provides The Following with some of its best jolts. But the show's twisted heart lies in the deadly gamesmanship between Carroll and Hardy, and once again the eyes have it: Purefoy's gleaming with mad purpose and Bacon's red-rimmed and soul-weary.
We'll soon see if the show's cable-level carnage is too much for network TV, and there's no denying the cultural sensitivities regarding this sort of entertainment in the wake of recent national tragedies. But Fox is targeting a very specific and lucrative audience here, the sort that can't get enough of cable chillers like The Walking Dead and Dexter. So if what you're looking for is a good scare that's cunningly and ruthlessly executed, be forewarned. The Following is the real deal.
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Not wanting to be left out of the icky fun, Fox's Bones (8/7c) resurrects one of its most persistent villains, the serial killer Christopher Pelant (smarmy Andrew Leeds), whose handiwork is obvious when Angela and Hodgins wake to a horrific sight: a bloody corpse hanging above their bed, and perhaps even scarier, flower petals left around their baby boy's crib. For Hodgins, this is a call to action, though Booth cautions him not to go all Dexter vigilante.
WHAT ELSE IS ON: Watch history be made, as most networks will be covering President Obama's second inauguration throughout the day. ... At night, The CW's charming The Carrie Diaries (8/7c) finds its title character (AnnaSophia Robb) scrambling to secure alone time with her boyfriend while also accommodating hip city friend Larissa's desire to photograph her stylish purse for Interview. ... In the night's other significant teen drama, ABC Family's Switched at Birth, Melody (Marlee Matlin) takes the school's deaf and hearing students on a Tolerance Retreat. ... Pretty Little Liars' Ashley Benson guests on CBS' How I Met Your Mother (8/7c) as Ted's wild and considerably younger new flame, who kindles Barney's interest as well. And no, she's probably not the mother either.