By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – January 15, 2020)
Sometimes, I’m not sure whether a series is going to find the right niche for a weekly cover, because as much as sometimes I WANT to cover something, the audience isn’t there for it, so I then just say something like, “Lodge 49 is such a good show. You should be watching it.” on Twitter and hope maybe you take that advice. But, in an era where we have so much television, if you guys aren’t watching it, I need to be focusing my attention elsewhere as it relates to my more in-depth coverage. For instance, Avenue 5 premieres this Sunday night on HBO, and I’m excited about what it can become. I don’t know that it’s going to be a hit out of the gates, with virtually no one talking about it. I have a lot of it to screen, but we’ll wait and see if it becomes Veep in Space before I actually start writing on it.
By the way, Lodge 49 is really good. You should be watching it.
Now… Barry Season 3, that I need to be writing about. And I will.
On its face, I thought The Outsider, taken from a Stephen King bestseller, probably had the chops to attract an audience in January, when not much new has hit. It also has a few marketable, well-known commodities with Jason Bateman and Ben Mendelsohn, particularly the former, especially with the success of Ozark, a similarly dark series, though surprisingly, the opening hour of this series didn’t feature much in terms of language. The content is definitely serious and quickly gets unsettling, plus we know it’s going to a horror-ish place sooner rather than later.
Let me stop there. Quickly, I need you to know I am unfamiliar with the source material. I haven’t read the story, don’t know what happens or where things are headed, other than the previews and trailers and the fact it’s Stephen King. So, the only spoilers you’ll get from me are ones for the episode I’m writing about, not anything related to the book. I also make sure to write before watching any further episodes that might make me look or sound like I can predict the future.
The series begins with a grisly murder of a child, so immediately, we’re taken into a bad place in this Georgia community. We meet Mendelsohn’s character, Ralph, a detective with some degree of repute and authority, who listens to classical music on his old-school iPod as he drives up to the crime scene. One thing I liked about Ralph is, as tortured as he might be by what he sees on a daily basis, he appears to have a good head on his shoulders, a decent marriage, and I didn’t see him tipping a bottle every five minutes.
This is refreshing, because it’s so easy to turn the cop into a drunk whose life is falling apart. I like that maybe this guy is a legit protagonist, even one willing to accept that Terry Maitland (Bateman) might actually not be the heinous human being it appears the district attorney and other county officials paint him to be. Mendelsohn has done the drunk thing before, being one of the lone highlights in Netflix’s Bloodline in terms of a character with depth that was allowed to really perform on that show. He can certainly play a jerk, but I’m cool watching him play a less-flawed human being, even though he’ll likely devolve a little in some ways.
We know he lost his own child and it’s a crime that continues to haunt him, something he actually fears colors his opinion and effort on every other case. To think “the one that got away” in his professional life was solving his own son’s murder is a pretty harsh reality. It also makes this case that much more personal for him, and it might lead to an emotional outburst or a mistake down the road, because he can’t hold himself back in the midst of such striking and constant pain.
Bateman plays dark exceedingly well, being one of the more versatile actors in the land for quite some time. When he’s attached to a project, it usually brings a little bit of extra interest, because he doesn’t end up in a lot of terribleness. Think of Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems. While that movie wasn’t my cup of tea, his Oscar nomination snub could have been predicted, because he’s been…well, he’s been Adam Sandler for so long that the Academy most likely thumbed their noses at him. Bateman did some dumb comedy, but then he started doing very SMART comedy, added drama to the mix, and now has clout when he appears on screen or on a billboard.
Terry Maitland may or may not be a dirtbag, but based on the eyewitness account from the girl who ran into him in the park, whatever is causing a lot of his possible problems is external, nefarious, and perhaps supernatural. It looks like he may have eaten something that was alive as he emerges from the woods with blood all over his mouth and shirt. She tells Ralph he might have been in a fight, which also makes sense, especially for a child that might not think as bleakly as we do as adults.
He makes a point to be on camera everywhere that day, basically documenting his every move, and while Ralph thinks he’s almost trying to get caught, it also might be that he wants to create as ironclad an alibi as he can, and the question is why would he be doing that if he were innocent? The final shot of the episode, with the other inmate basically telling Terry he’s going to die the next day, which backs up stories through the years of how short the lifespan is for incarcerated people that treated children poorly, also gives away that Maitland knows something dangerous is inside him.
How else could he close his eyes after hearing what we heard? It’s as if he’s saying, “Okay guy, good luck with that. You don’t know I have a demon possessing me, and it’s just going to consume your face with its fangs.” He’s just way too calm in the expression. He has information others don’t.
Maybe I’m reading into it and when you see “Stephen King” on the advertising, you think of different things. We have some solid cast members, with one more we need to mention. Bill Camp, who was just outstanding in 2019’s Dark Waters, alongside Mark Ruffalo, being our P.I. for the Maitland family, is going to put forth some great work. He looks this part more than anybody looks their part on the show, and the Howie Saloman character’s relationship to both Terry and Glory Maitland, as well as Ralph and his team, makes it all the more intriguing. He’s been an irritant in the past, meaning he’s someone they all see as worthy of healthy respect. He can cause some problems for the “state,” in this case.
We see just enough of the victim’s family to know what’s gone down since Frankie’s death and how it’s affected them, particularly the mother, which of course takes an even more depressing turn. The crime doesn’t have much impact without seeing the scene of the mom screaming at Terry as he’s being led through the station and out to the transport vehicle. Those emotions remind us while we’re playing whodunit and sleuth, a child was killed in a heinous way, even to the extent that the implication includes sexual assault and sodomy. That ensures we don’t lose sight of what’s important.
It wasn’t the most action packed start, but that might actually have been beneficial. It gave us background and caught us up on what we needed to know, but didn’t overwhelm us with too much information. The episode was concise and easy to watch, even though it was nearly an hour long. It wasn’t an exhausting 60 minutes. We’ll be covering the series each week, with reviews planned to hit just as the credits roll on the east coast.
What’d you guys think of the first installment of the two hour premiere?