Plot: The ten-episode series follows police detective Ralph Anderson, as he sets out to investigate the mutilated body of 11-year-old Frankie Peterson found in the Georgia woods. The mysterious circumstances surrounding this horrifying crime leads Ralph, still grieving the recent death of his own son, to bring in unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney, whose uncanny abilities he hopes will help explain the unexplainable.
Review: Full disclosure: I am a die hard Stephen King fan. I own every book the man has ever published and I have seen every adaptation of his work. As a King fan, I am also fully aware of his weaker works and therefore the lackluster movies and series inspired by his writing. I am also incredibly happy that despite being a consistent bestselling author that adaptations of Stephen King‘s works are currently in a revival, especially thanks to IT and DOCTOR SLEEP. On the small screen, Castle Rock has been a fun show to watch and Mr. Mercedes has been a sleeper hit, but no one is prepared for how good The Outsider is. Adapted by a team of the best writers out there, including The Wire’s Richard Price and MYSTIC RIVER and SHUTTER ISLAND author Dennis Lehane with direction from Jason Bateman and Karyn Kusama (amongst others), The Outsider is True Detective crossed with HBO’s The Night Of and is already one of the best series of 2020 (and it isn’t even January yet).
The Outsider is a very faithful adaptation of King’s 2018 novel. Soon after it was published, Media Rights Capital snapped up the rights making this one of the quickest turnarounds for a King novel going from page to screen. King himself has praised The Outsider as one of the best takes on his writing and for good reason. Filmed in bleak hues of gray and blue, this series looks a lot like Jason Bateman‘s series Ozark but with a much darker and more serious tone. With a stellar cast led by Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo, this is a character-driven thriller that deals with some heavy themes of loss as well as a supernatural element that is truly horrifying.
Having seen the first six episodes of the ten episode series, I can tell you that the trailers do not reveal much outside of the first two episodes. Jason Bateman, who acts in as well as directs those first two chapters of the story, lends a muted tone to the narrative. There are some time jumps peppered through each episode that will take some adjusting for the casual viewer, but the story commands your attention as the story starts like a police procedural before spiraling into a much different type of story. Cynthia Erivo‘s Holly Gibney, a character who has appeared in four Stephen King novels and a fifth upcoming one, is as important a character to this tale as Ben Mendelsohn‘s Ralph Anderson and both actors deliver some of their finest work here.
Mendelsohn, who has played bad guys most of the time, does some powerful acting here as the detective on the hunt for a child-killer. Dealing with the grief of losing his own child years before, the case against Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) haunts him. Mendelsohn has a fiery intensity that we have seen in films like ROGUE ONE and READY PLAYER ONE, but here he is a very relatable everyman faced with the most unusual case of his career. Where Ralph Anderson is a more conventional character, Holly Gibney is anything but. Gibney, who is on the Autism spectrum, is a brilliant investigator whose unique approach to the world helps her find things others may overlook. Cynthia Erivo continues her breakout career as an actress and makes Gibney very likeable and brilliant to watch. She is very similar to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s take on Sherlock Holmes and I would love to see Erivo reprise this character if HBO elects to make Stephen King‘s follow-up book, If It Bleeds, into a second season of The Outsider.
The supporting cast here is outstanding and includes Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Bill Camp, Julianne Nicholson, Yul Vasquez, Hettienne Park, and Jeremy Bobb. As much an ensemble as any series on TV, each chapter builds towards explosive reveals while giving us insight into each character. No one feels like a cliche or two-dimensional and that is a credit to Stephen King‘s creative prowess. The dialogue has a bite to it and the adaptation manages to keep the vast majority of King’s dialogue while expanding and visualizing the bizarre truth behind the story that sometimes hampers even the best adaptation of his novels. The Outsider may be the best adaptation of Stephen King‘s work since THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.
If you have not read the book, there is little I can tell you that will not spoil The Outsider and you definitely want to go into this story as fresh as you can. I can tell you that this series is unlike any other Stephen King adaptation ever made and is made reverentially to the source material by the brilliant writing team led by Richard Price. The story is complex and definitely takes a bend that reminded me greatly of the first season of True Detective. Hell, this could be the fourth season of that show and worthy of the mantle as well. It is scary without being horror, haunting without being scary, and just damn good storytelling. The pacing may be a bit slow for some but the pay-off is well worth your patience.
The Outsider premieres with two back-to-back episodes January 12th on HBO.