Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 19, 2020)
Based on Stephen King’s 2018 novel, 2020’s The Outsider brings us an HBO “limited series”. This three-disc package includes all 10 shows, and the episode synopses come straight from the set’s insert.
Fish in a Barrel: “Georgia detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) sets out to investigate the gruesome murder of 11-year-old Frankie Peterson (Duncan E. Clark) but is mystified by suspect Terry Maitland’s (Jason Bateman) ironclad alibi.”
Of course, we mainly associate King with supernatural horrror, whereas Outsider brings terror of a more believable kind – on the surface, that is. While “Fish” follows a largely reality-based tale, it hints at something more fantastic to come.
Whatever follows, “Fish” offers a pretty strong opening salvo. It draws us into the murder mystery elements in a compelling manner to make it a fine launch to the series.
Roanoke: “Detective Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca) returns to work after an unexpected tragedy throws Ralph’s investigation into a tailspin.”
“Roanoke” opens with a bang – literally, as a major character dies in a hail of gunfire. After that, events fall more into the “plot development” category, as we follow intriguing developments in the murder investigation. While not as strong a show as “Fish”, “Roanoke” still moves along matters well.
Dark Uncle: “Confounded by the conflicting evidence, Ralph contacts unorthodox PI Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), who promises to bring a fresh perspective to the case.”
Holly offers a major new character, and one who might wear thin before long. A person with distinctive talents, Erivo plays her in a quirky manner that may get old quickly. Still, she offers an interesting twist and helps move the series ahead in a positive manner.
Que Viene El Cuco: “While retracing the Maitlands’ recent family vacation, Holly pursues an eerily similar case in Dayton, Ohio.”
On the positive side, “Cuco” softens Holly and ensures that she won’t become as annoying as I feared after her debut. Much of the episode feels a little stagnant, but it comes with some revelations by its end.
Tear-Drinker: “After returning from an eye-opening trip to New York, Holly searches for clues connected to the Dayton case. Jeannie (Mare Winningham) gives Ralph an ominous warning.”
After the big reveal at the conclusion of “Cuco”, this episode feels a little more like a placeholder. While we find some decent plot movement, it seems a little heavy on shoe leather without any especially dynamic.
The One About the Yiddish Vampire: “Holly presents her unusual theory about the connection between two other mysterious child murders and the Frankie Peterson case.”
That synopsis offers the biggest aspect of “Vampire”, as Holly’s reveal of her ideas to the others becomes a major plot moment. The rest feels a bit stuck in place, though by the end, we push ahead in a decent way.
In the Pines, In the Pines: “Holly makes a calculated attempt to help a volatile but conflicted Jack while their whereabouts are tracked by Ralph and Alec (Jeremy Bobb).”
While we get some actual action from “Pines”, it doesn’t feel like we encounter a whole lot of narrative development. Maybe Outsider stretches its subject matter too far for a mini-series, as this middle series stretch remains somewhat stagnant. Hopefully the story will progress more meaningfully during the final 30 percent of the series.
Foxhead: “Holly, Ralph, Yunis (Yul Vazquez) and Andy (Derek Cecil) follow Claude (Paddy Considine) to Tennessee in an attempt to isolate the evil force and prevent its next kill.”
To some degree, “Foxhead” feels like an excuse to allow the characters to get to know each other – and thus for the audience to learn more about them. Some terror escalates as well, but I have to say Outsider isn’t accelerating quite as much as I might hope this late in the series.
Tigers and Bears: “While obscuring their true purpose in town from local police, Ralph and Yunis interview witnesses from the cave festival.”
I have to admit Outsider worked better for me before the reveal of the source of the murders. While I’m fine with the story’s supernatural elements, it seemed more compelling when it stood as a thriller/mystery.
This means that ever since the reveal of the culprit, Outsider has found itself on a slow path toward an inevitable life-or-death confrontation between our lead characters and the killer. This robs the series of some urgency and makes it a bit on the plodding side. “Bears” pushes us toward the expected finale in a competent manner but it doesn’t elevate the material.
Must/Can’t: “The group finds itself in a climactic showdown in their last-ditch effort to root out El Cuco.”
With “Must”, the series comes to an end, and a not wholly predictable one. Still, the finale doesn’t toss out enough interesting twists to make it redeem the generally mediocre nature of the series’ second half.
Not that I view Outsider as a bad show, but it simply seems less compelling as it goes. “Must” wraps up the tale in a reasonably worthwhile way, but not one that redeems the semi-monotony of the story’s second half.
Footnote: don’t bail on “Must” when the end credits start, as a teaser/tag appears before too long.