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First look TV review: The Outsider

Written by Isaac

Review Overview






8/10 Total Rating 8/10

Ben Mendelsohn is brilliant in HBO’s chillingly dark Stephen King mystery.

Reading time: 3 mins

Is there a writer who has been adapted for the screen more than Stephen King? He continues his reign over our living rooms with The Outsider, HBO’s new series that looks like a prestige TV crime procedural, but creeps like a horror.

The show begins with something truly horrifying: the discovery of an 11-year-old boy’s body, grisly, grim and gruesome. With the community shocked, detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) races to find a culprit. The evidence all points to Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), the coach of the youth baseball team. Fingerprints and eyewitnesses all place him at the same, along with CCTV footage. The only problem? CCTV footage also places him somewhere else entirely at the time of the murder.

How is it possible that he can be in two places at once? That’s the challenge facing Anderson, and Ben Mendelsohn is as excellent as ever as the dogged detective trying to piece together the mystery. He grills adults and children alike with a determination and a sensitivity that’s immediately likeable and completely magnetic; he brings a humanity to the typical role of a policeman with baggage (he’s still mourning the loss of his son years ago), making him feel like an actual person. Jason Bateman, too, is excellent as Terry, giving his prime suspect a convincing kindness and sincerity that surely proves his innocence.

How can he be in two places at once? That’s the chilling truth at the heart of The Outsider’s disturbing appeal: he can’t. Which, when you discount anything logical and possible, leaves you with only the impossible and the supernatural. And that’s the point at which writer Richard Price really begins to freak you out.

His 10-part adaptation begins with a double-bill to set the tone, which is as dark as it comes. There’s violence lurking beneath the small-town surface waiting to erupt, whether in the form of fatal mistakes or rage-fuelled vengeance, and the levels of suspicion are only trumped by the levels of grief and sadness. And yet, there’s something even worse than that buried under it all, and we get glimpses of it throughout the initial two hours – most of all with the unsettling sight of what may or may not be a doppelgänger. Bateman’s appearance in the opening chapter manages to change from one moment to the next, with his behaviour and reactions – not to mention his facial expression – on the day of the murder extremely unnatural. Is that just a coincidence? Is there a more innocent explanation? And what does all of this have to do with a sinister-looking man in a hoodie who is lurking in the background?

With eight more hours to go, there is no promise of a quick solution to the mystery, but with Bateman directing the first two chapters with a tangible, haunting sense of gloom, you won’t want to leave the King Cinematic Universe any time soon.

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