THE OUTSIDER is the latest adaptation based on the writings of Stephen King, which centers around a mysterious and gruesome murder of a local boy. The series stars Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline, Ready Player One), Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple), Bill Camp (The Night Of), Mare Winningham (Georgia), Paddy Considine (The Third Day), Julianne Nicholson (Mare of Easttown), Yul Vázquez (Divorce), Jeremy Bobb (The Knick), Marc Menchaca (The Sinner) and Jason Bateman (Ozark, Arrested Development).

Per the official synopsis, THE OUTSIDER, based on the 2018 Stephen King bestselling novel of the same name, follows police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), as he sets out to investigate the mutilated body of 11-year-old Frankie Peterson found in the Georgia woods. The mysterious circumstances surrounding the horrifying crime leads Ralph, still grieving the recent death of his own son, to bring in unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), whose uncanny abilities he hopes will help explain the unexplainable.

Jason Bateman and Ben Mendelsohn in THE OUTSIDER | Image courtesy of IMDB

Ahead of its premiere this Sunday, I was able to catch the first two episodes of the anticipated HBO show. In the premiere episode, titled “Fish in a Barrel”, we are introduced to detective Ralph Anderson after the mutilated body of an 11-year-old boy is found in the Georgia woods. Anderson launches an investigation and begins speaking with eyewitnesses in the sleepy town who inform him that they all saw Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), a local teacher and little-league baseball coach, interacting with Frankie Peterson the day of his murder. After Anderson publicly arrests him, more information begins to bubble to the surface which indicates that Maitland must be the killer, regardless of Maitland incessant vocalization that he is indeed not the killer. However, when Maitland’s lawyer, Howie Gold (Bill Camp) gets involved, he’s able to produce an iron-clad alibi showing that Maitland wasn’t anywhere near the town the day of the murder as he was at a writer’s conference. This leaves the police department confused as to how Maitland could have been in two places at once. Episode two, titled “Roanoke”, starts off with an unfortunate tragedy that throws Ralph, and the entire investigation into a complete tailspin. It’s in this second episode where we get some more backstory into our characters and the political agenda in having Maitland up for trial.

Having read the novel when it first came out, I was familiar with the overall narrative and was interested in seeing how it would be translated into a series. I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the book – I loved everything up until the ending, which left me wanting more. That said, I liked how the first episode played out in setting up some of the main characters. Bateman is the perfect Terry Maitland because he possesses that “nice guy” trademark persona allowing there to be a shock to the system when his character is arrested on suspicion of murdering a young child. However, I was very impressed with Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Ralph Anderson, a complex character that rides a fine line of having his life spiraling into chaos while presenting a faux exterior that he has his shit together. He is hell-bent on proving that Maitland is guilty of the crime before due process even begins. And even when it’s suggested that maybe he should wait till all the evidence is compiled, he brushes it off, confident in what he’s already decided.

Ben Mendelsohn and Yul Vazquez in THE OUTSIDER | Image courtesy of IMDB

Those going into a show with minimal knowledge of what to expect from this series should be prepared for some graphic imagery. There isn’t a lot of gore, at least not yet, but what we do end up seeing is the carnage that Frankie Peterson has endured when his body is found. Furthermore, the show is incredibly bleak, with a color palette that parallels the atmosphere, using gray/blue tones which heighten the sensation of a somber coolness. The first episodes, which does start off rather intense, quickly evens out which might distract people and turn them off. It’s a slow build, something I’m not against if the pay off sticks the landing. That said, upon viewing the second episode, I was much more invested in both the story and the characters. Additionally, the second episode does a fantastic job of finishing with a cliffhanger that’ll prompt viewers to come back the following week as the story unfolds.

With 8 more episodes to go, I’m cautiously optimistic that HBO will be able to pull off both the tone and mystery of the book. I like how each episode is a slow burn that doesn’t require over-the-top antics to sell the viewer on the severity of the unfolding storylines and instead allows the unsettling tension to build. I definitely believe that THE OUTSIDER will feature more twists and turns as the unexplainable begins to take shape, making it a show that both horror fans and true crime fanatics will easily be able to sink their teeth into. The first two episodes of THE OUTSIDER premieres January 12, 2020, on HBO at 9:00 pm ET/PT and 10:00 pm ET/PT.

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