EXPECTATIONS ARE TOO HIGH FOR HBO’S ‘THE OUTSIDER’
Is this show really worth the hype?
A young boy was found dead in the woods; he was slashed and horrifically battered to death during the day. It just so happened that a man walking his dog on a trail came across the disturbing scene and noted that a white van (the type you typically imagine serial killers driving) was found nearby. No one saw the actual murder but some unreliable witnesses said they saw the local baseball coach, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), bloodied and acting strange on that day. When arrested, he vehemently denied committing the murder. It’s later discovered that at the time of the murder, he’s seen on video at a teacher’s conference 70 miles way. If it’s not possible to be at two places at once, then who did it? Jason Bateman’s ‘The Outsider’ takes on the heavy task of adapting Stephen King’s horror story about monsters who commit unimaginable deeds to TV.
Being another HBO series, fans of the network are expecting an amazing reworking but perhaps too much too soon. The first episode of the show is very reminiscent of the first season of ‘True Detective’ in its pacing, music and cinematic shots, but as the story slowing progresses, audiences immediately learn that it’s meant to be more of a fantasy horror story instead of a crime narrative. So, for those who are unfamiliar with King’s work, it may be a little disappointing to discover. However, the show may still be promising. The second episode of “The Outsider” is a bit more intriguing because as Anderson begins to second guess himself, it becomes clearer that that there is a sinister meaning behind many of the details he’s learning to find out who the real killer is. For example, the van used for the murder was also spotted near Terry’s father’s retirement home, so now Anderson has to follow as many trails as possible, and seek help to learn more.
Since only two episodes have been released so far, it’s hard to really decide whether the show is a winner or not, but a quick look at the trailer of the third episode which teases about the direction of the story and how writers plan to rope in the fantasy concept, gives the impression that the show will be dry. This is mainly because a black character, Holly Gibney ( Cynthia Erivo) instigates the fantasy angle in the story but her role seems one-dimensional and unremarkable due to the inattentive allusions to the spiritual beliefs of some black communities. Also, the character’s reactions to situations are replicated from those seen in almost every horror story with flat black supporting characters so, her lines are banal at best.
Just the same, the problem with fantasy and horror shows, is that if the writers are instrumental in developing a strong build up early on it forces an expectation of an amazing reveal at the end which isn’t always possible to produce. ‘Orphan Black’ was one show that was great at creating a sense of engagement and mystery early on, yet fell flat with a fumbled conclusion that didn’t sufficiently maintain the same level of esteem as the previous seasons. More, horror shows like ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ did an impeccable job of really retaining a sense of secrecy in the beginning. ‘Penny Dreadful’ produced two strong seasons, however the last season had poor cinematography and graphics and a weakened plot. Similarly, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ was just too slow-burning; the finale was almost predictable or at least, less impactful than it could have been.
Some might argue that since “The Outsider” has already been laid out by King in his novel, the producers should have a clear blue print for success. Though, based on the trailer for the third season, it may satisfy the taste of those who are true fans of King, but end lacklustre as most HBO series do when there is poor character development and thus, a shaky plot. If the purpose of the show is to creep you out, all four series can be considered great in their entirety. But if the point is to make the viewer leave feeling slightly changed from watching a haunting story that feels real enough to excite a feeling of angst, days or even weeks after; maybe we should reconsider the benchmark for what we consider to be good TV.