The Outsider Review: Terrific Performances Bolster This Otherworldly Whodunnit

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Based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, The Outsider centers on a community overcome with grief when one of their children is found brutally murdered.

It's not King's first flirtation with crime, and like most of his work, there is an otherworldly bent to what's happening.

Although I didn't finish the novel, from what I've seen so far, it's a faithful adaptation. And with skillful filming and directing and a talented cast, it's a lot easier to pick up on the expected sinister undertones.

Possible and the Impossible Tall - The Outsider

Ben Mendelsohn plays detective Ralph Anderson, the man in charge of picking up the pieces for his community in light of the slaying of an 11-year-old boy whose body is found in the woods near their Georgia town.

It seems like a cut and dry case when witnesses, video footage, and forensic evidence place local teacher and beloved baseball coach, Terry Maitland, at the scene.

How hard can it be to convict a blood-soaked suspect no matter how revered he is by his neighbors?

But The Outsider has the King magic running through its veins, and an investigator also grappling with an unimaginable loss -- the death of his son.

The Suspect - The Outsider

Jason Bateman, who directs the first two episodes, plays Terry Maitland. Bateman's resume has grown to include many performances in which he's called on to toe the line between good buy and bad guy.

As Maitland, Bateman is superb as a man dealing with tragic events who has the confidence of innocence that turns to confusion as the evidence begin to mount against him.

Mendelsohn and Bateman are joined by Mare Winningham as Anderson's long-suffering wife, Jeannie, and Julianne Nicholson as Terry's wife, Marcy.

Both actors are called upon to squeeze every last drop of emotion out of their scenes, which can border on heartwrenching.

Also on board is Bill Camp who is becoming an HBO veteran after appearing on The Leftovers and The Night Of as Terry's attorney, Howie Saloman.

A Couple in Crisis - The Outsider

Although the setting is sunny Georgia, the work itself has a more King-esque feel despite the rays of light that tickle the town.

King's works ordinarily have a melancholic feel to them, and with many set in the far northeastern United States the local weather can stand in for the dreary pall.

On The Outsider, though, it's up to filmmakers to set the tone, and Bateman's direction of the first two episodes makes use of lighting and pacing to the point that Georgia feels like any other location King uses in his works.

Stepping outside of his regional comfort zones doesn't play into the story since the location isn't used to any benefit for which the region is known, instead melding into the atmosphere most often acquainted with King's works.

Dealing with the Fallout - The Outsider

What's most interesting about the change of setting for The Outsider is that one of King's favorite characters, private investigator Holly Gibney, here played by Cynthia Erivo, still manages to not only make an appearance but to own the story.

Holly's inclusion in the novel was met with either love or disdain.

If you follow King's works, then you should be aware of Holly, and you might even have already seen a television version of her on Audience Network's Mr. Mercedes.

On that show, which recently finished its third season and will be in limbo after the announcement that the DirecTV network will become a preview channel for HBO Max exclusively, Justine Lupe (Succession) plays Holly.

While that could seem a little bit jarring for the casual viewer, it turns out that two versions of the same character on television is pretty easy to process.

Open Yourself to Alternate Facts - The Outsider

The Holly we meet on The Outsider is well beyond the tragedies suffered by the character in the Mr. Mercedes universe.

She's known for her ability to work within the otherworldly realm and to believe in the impossible because she's been directly affected by it.

What's refreshing is that because of her honesty and upfront nature, even when others should be jaded after what she's encountered, her keen observation skills and lack of filter allow her to set to right a lot of what's playing against Terry.

Her addition to the proceedings marks a distinct tonal change in the show and in the investigation, and Erivo crushes every scene she's in. If Holly's initial inclusion in the novel ruffled feathers of King's fans, this performance should help soothe them.

King likes to mess with the thought that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points by getting his readers to open their imaginations.

The eery feeling besetting the Georgia town in which the crime occurred is forced to do the same to determine what’s happening to them and to prevent it from irrevocably changing their lives.

Investigators on the Case - The Outsider

Other stars of The Outsider include Yum Vazquez as Georgia Bureau of Investigation Yunis Sablo, Marc Menchacha as detective Jack Hoskins, Paddy Considine as Claude Bolton, and Jeremy Bobb as Alec Pelley, a private investigator hired by Howie.

Five of the six initial episodes are written by Richard price, with Jessie Nickson-Lopez directing the sixth installment, and directors on upcoming episodes include Andres Bernstein, Igor Martinovic, and Karyn Kusama.

The first two hours of the series will be airing together on Sunday, January 12, and by the end of them, you’ll be thankful they’ve been scheduled accordingly.

By the end of the premiere, you'll have had the opportunity to see Mendelsohn and Bateman have one of the most compelling (and timely) discussions we're privileged to see on a network drama that could see Bateman's way to the next awards season.

Leaning Into One Another - The Outsider

Ultimately, though, in this time of binge-watching, I can assure you that you will miss nothing by watching at a slower pace, and you’ll benefit from having some time to digest what you’ve seen and to talk it over with your friends before proceeding.

I can't be the only one who misses those conversations, and to help propel the discussion, we'll have full episodic reviews after each episode airs for you on Sunday nights.

If you’re not familiar with the novel, the mystery of The Outsider isn't easy to solve, but it’s dramatically satisfying and with the people on board this production, it’s a good investment for your valuable viewing time.

The Outsider premieres on HBO Sunday, January 12 at 9/8c.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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The Outsider Quotes

Ralph: I'm as baffled by this conflicting evidence as you are. His prints are all over the crime scene, but the TV footage puts him sixty miles away.
Officer: He can't have been in two places at once.

For the what?

Terrence Matland. I'm arresting you for the murder of Frankie Peterson. Terry