Over the last year, critically-acclaimed shows such as “The Act,” “Unbelievable” and the recently released Aaron Hernandez mini-series “Killer Inside” represent America’s newfound fascination with the true-crime genre. Similarly, the popularity of shows such as “Black Mirror” and “Stranger Things” reveals the expanding market for horror. All factors considered, it was only a matter of time before the genres of horror, crime and mystery melded together on HBO to give us “The Outsider,” the televised adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Georgia detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn, “Ready Player One”) is called to investigate the most horrifying case he will probably ever work on — the violent death of a child named Frankie Peterson, who has been deformed in unimaginable ways. As any person would react in this situation, he rushes to find a way to get the monster that did this off the streets and to deliver vindication to a community rattled by this unthinkable crime.
Several reliable witnesses identify Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”), a universally-liked local, as a suspect. A seemingly normal youth baseball coach, no one can imagine Maitland committing such a crime. However, the evidence points to another conclusion: A woman saw him helping Frankie into his van, a kid saw him come out of the woods with blood all around his face and he was spotted all over the area on security cameras. He even called a cab and made sure it was recorded. It’s almost as though Terry wanted to be seen.
Encouraged by the District Attorney Bill Samuels (Michael Esper, “Ray Donovan”), Anderson publicly arrests Terry at a Little League baseball game. Without DNA evidence nor questioning, the police have publicly condemned Maitland as a child murderer. But, despite the overwhelming physical evidence that points to Terry being at the scene of Frankie’s death, there is video evidence that proves he was dozens of miles away at a literary conference at the exact same time of the murder. How can he be two places at once?
It’s impossible to blame Anderson for his decision to implicate Maitland, however, the show makes it clear that sometimes, the easy answer is not always the right answer. The show also allows viewers to question Anderson’s integrity: Is his hasty push towards justice derived out of a concern for the community, or rather just a means to vindicate the loss of his own son, who died at a young age?
Fans of the book might be slightly disappointed that the first 170 pages of the novel are rushed through at a breakneck pace in the pilot, but executive producer Jason Bateman is clearly more interested in the action of the aftermath than the foreplay of the set-up. It’s hard to argue with this rationale, as the hook is good enough to distract from the sometimes dizzying pace of the show. By propelling us forward into the center of the narrative, “The Outsider” makes us more engaged than we would be if the show had taken its time.