The Outsider

Dept. of Investigations and Distractions


HBO’s 10 part adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider debuted Monday, 13th January, with two back-to-back episodes kicking off the supernatural themed procedural. Thanks to HBO Asia, Iain McNally has been assigned to investigate the first 6 episodes to determine if further action by the authorities is required.

It starts with a murder. A particularly gruesome one. That of a child.

A murder committed with apparently no attempt at concealment by the perpetrator whatsoever, leaving a surfeit of evidence behind. DNA, fingerprints, multiple eye witness statements, and video footage all point to one upstanding member of the community for veteran lawman Ralph Peterson (Ben Mendelsohn) and his team to investigate in the latest Stephen King adaptation to grace the small screen.

Only after arresting softball coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) in front of the whole town do the cracks in the case start to show, with equally solid yet opposite evidence placing Terry 60-70 miles from the scene of the crime at the very time it was committed.

How can such massively conflicting sets of evidence be reconciled is the question driving Ralph, but unfortunately the series itself suffers from a lack of singular focus. After the events of the first two impressive episodes (directed by Jason Bateman himself) thwart Ralph’s standard lines of inquiry, he becomes obsessed with solving the crime and what starts as a dark police procedural, transitions to a moody character study of Ralph as he wrestles with the investigation, the grief of the unrelated death of his son, and some police mandated therapy. The series can’t remain focused on these areas however as it also tries to explore the impact such horrific murders can have on the greater community as well as introducing oddball Private Investigator Holly Gibney (the now Oscar nominated Cynthia Erivo) to take over aspects of the investigation.

A savant who can tell you faster than any computer what day of the week May 1st falls on for the next 204 years, but needs to look up today’s date, Gibney is a fascinating character. And while switching protagonists may work beautifully in the book (I confess I’ve not read it), it ends up somewhat unsatisfying in the context of a weekly TV show. (Apparently Gibney also appears in King’s other books Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and End of Watch, but I’ve not read those either.)

The next four episodes concentrate on Gibney’s tracing the whereabouts of the various players and the evidence involved, to see what overlaps occur and what insights they may spur, while Ralph and Terry’s families try to come to terms with the events of the first 2 episodes, meandering back and forth, with occasional appearances of a shadowy, hooded figure to ratchet up the tension.

While its shot with an unnerving sense of dread, The Outsider has trouble escaping the shadow cast by similarly darkly themed procedurals. Cherokee County initially seems to boast a similar breadth of character as Twin Peaks, Washington but for some reason characters are left to wither on the vine. Yul Vazquez (John Gavin in Narcos: Mexico) seems to be introduced as a Georgia Bureau of Investigation officer to provide a welcome foil for Mendelsohn’s detective but he ends going AWOL for long periods of time. Meanwhile in Gibney’s episodes new “partners” for her to bounce ideas off pop up with little or no introduction or character development.

After 6 episodes, I’ve no idea why the great Paddy Considine (Peaky Blinders, Hot Fuzz) has been cast as reformed criminal and local strip club manager, Claude Bolton, but I’m pretty darn sure he’ll play a bigger role in the final 4 episodes.

Stripped of King’s prose, the set up is something straight out of the X-files, but while Mulder and Scully might have identified something spooky going on by the 6th minute of an episode, after 6 episodes the cast of The Outsider are only starting to catch on that something out of the ordinary is afoot. 

While undoubtedly stylish, the series also suffers from some distracting tics. Certain scenes and characters are introduced out of sequence with apparently no rhyme or reason. These usually tie into Gibney’s investigations, but rather than feeling like new information coming to light, it just ends up being disorienting.

It should be mentioned that the performances are great across the bar, with Julianne Nicholson and Mare Winningham providing powerful yet subtle roles as Mendelson and Bateman’s incredible wives.

I had been very excited about the series based upon the trailer, but after six episodes, I’d be hard pressed to recommend waiting for another four in order for our team of sleuths to catch up with the audience and figure out what’s going on.

An intriguing mystery drowned in style and distractions. I think I’m going to go read the book now.

The Outsider is available same-time-as-the-US every Monday at 10am on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411 / 431 HD) with an encore broadcast on the same day at 10pm on HBO.

The Outsider
HBO, Season 1, 10 Episodes
Writers: Stephen King and Richard Price
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Jason Bateman, Cynthia Erivo, Mare Winningham, Julianne Nicholson, Yul Vazquez, Bill Camp, and Marc Menchaca

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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