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On TV tonight: Would you rather watch serial killers or killer critters?

'Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell," Lady Macbeth says to no one in particular in Act One of Macbeth.

And "Indeed!" say we all. Come tonight, the best and bloodiest new network drama in years begins its assault on viewers. That's The Following (Fox, CTV, 9 p.m.) and, as I reported in a lengthy epistle in Saturday's paper, it's a tad controversial.

Controversial mainly because it's scary, is the gist. But what's scary, anyway? Fictional serial killers or real snakes, scorpions and killer water bugs? Let's dwell on that.

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First, put the yackety-yack about The Following aside and you've got a good show. It's not for the squeamish or those who prefer their police procedurals to plod. And not for those who might be irritated that the plot commands them to look up the works of Edgar Allan Poe in order to determine where the murder and mayhem is rooted.

Charming killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is the Poe scholar, the one unleashing unspeakable horror through his followers. Melancholy and sometimes drunk FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) is the guy on his tail, a man ensnared years before in Carroll's web of rage and murder. Disturbing events unfold, but this drama is not anchored in the ponderous paranoia that sets the tone on Criminal Minds or the CSI shows. The rapid pace and revelation of the breadth of the killer's reach is what keeps it going. The speed is designed to make the viewers both gripped and uneasy, and it works.

And there comes a point where, if you stick with it, Edgar Allan Poe is a central figure. The series dwells on an adolescent interpretation of Poe's morbid, dark romanticism, but it is not empty-headed. The Following is escapism of the warped kind, plot-driven but eventually character-driven, too. (The intensity of the connection between the killer and the cop is unnerving and vaguely homoerotic.) Me, I don't buy into the hogwash that is the condemnation of Fox for airing a gory, scary show in prime time. It's frightening but in a fabulous way. It's invention, not a real investigation.

And it compels us to ask: What does frighten people?

Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan (OLN, 9 p.m.) also starts tonight and features scenes that will scare many people way more than any actor playing a serial killer.

Monaghan is the English actor best known for Lost, The Lord of the Rings movies and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. At the start of the program – made for BBC America – he declares that, apart from acting, his passion is creepy-crawly killers. And the first one he sets out to meet is the giant water bug, found in Vietnam, which is only 7.5 centimetres long but can kill creatures 10 times its size. It's an ugly little critter with razor-sharp pincers and an ability to inject toxins that liquefy the innards of its prey. Bloody terrifying, actually.

So we meet Monaghan in a lake in Vietnam with 120 crocodiles. But he's ignoring the killer crocs and looking for an encounter with that giant water beetle. Then we go back to the beginning of his journey – he sets out along the Mekong Delta and, of course, natters on about Apocalypse Now, his favourite move.

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Pretty soon he sees a giant snake up a tree. "Ooh look at the size of that snake," he cries. Next thing you know, he's up the tree getting all touchy-feely with an enormous python. "Ooh, look at the size of its head," he cries. The python then breathes into his ear. "What a stupendous and beautiful animal," Monaghan whispers. And you might well be at home replying, "Ooh, that's horrible and disgusting."

In other adventures in what is a travel show as much as a critter show, Monaghan meets a water scorpion and a deadly cobra to which he introduces himself by saying, "woo-hoo-hoo!" The cobra then gets ticked off by the camera and all that "woo-hoo" stuff. In an adventure almost as dangerous, he also buys a Manchester United shirt in a Ho Chin Minh City market.

Then he dines at a restaurant that serves "steamed penis and balls of goat" and, later, pulls leeches off his tummy. The climax is his eventual encounter with the giant water bug, the "perfect killing machine."

Monaghan is charming, but he's no David Attenborough. You wouldn't catch Sir David addressing a cobra with a "woo-hoo-hoo!"

The point, mind you, is that the critters encountered are real and scary and killers. The critters on The Following are fiction.

"Oh, full of scorpions is my mind," Macbeth says to his missus in Act Three. And "Indeed!" say we all.

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Also airing Monday

The Presidential Inauguration coverage begins at 11 a.m. on all the U.S. networks and news channels, and on the Canadian news channels too. Hours and hours of punditry, pageantry and a big speech. Not scary at all.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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